Hugh Pickens writes:
Lindsey Kaufman writes in the Washington Post that despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country with about 70 percent of US. offices having no or low partitions. Silcon Valley has led the way with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisting famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers with a single room, stretching 10 acres, where everyone will sit in the open with moveable furniture. Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But according to Kaufman employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity with a 2013 study showing that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction says Kaufman. "Though multitasking millennials seem to be more open to distraction as a workplace norm, the wholehearted embrace of open offices may be ingraining a cycle of under-performance in their generation," writes Maria Konnikova. "They enjoy, build, and proselytize for open offices, but may also suffer the most from them in the long run."
The open office is great for brogrammers and their happy talk. Everything is "awesome", and when they come back from a meeting everyone nearby gets the blow-by-blow account where names are dropped, boasts about how clueless/impressed the folks from the more distant office and/or corporate function are, etc. Even when it's a doctor's appointment or personal meeting, we still get the blow by blow.
I'm sure in other fields, there's an equivalent for sorority sister talk.
Actually, it's still the norm in some fields (like journalism) and was the norm for workers in most white-collar jobs in the 1950's and 1960's. My mother used to tell me about her first day on the job in a newspaper working the city desk straight out of college: it was an actual desk, labelled "city desk," in a giant room full of other people talking on the phone, clacking on typewriters, and being efficient (and probably smoking back then too). She'd always been a sheltered little princess, so she'd never had to work around other people in a noisy place before. She complained to her editor, who told her to get her story written or find another job. She grew up fast and learned to work efficiently even if a war was going on around her.
The Facebook engineers sound like millennial princesses. I guess that's what most brogrammers are at heart. They need an editor from a 1960's newsroom to set their shit straight.
Everyone knows that journalists worked in open offices forever; it's in the movies. It sort of makes sense because it's a reminder that the real work takes place outside people's desks, they're supposed to be out on the street tracking down stories and on the phone setting up those appointments.
Things were different in established engineering companies in the '80s. People had private offices; younger workers shared an office. Yes, startups were cube farms except that management had private offices; this was to save money on floor space.
Journalism doesn't require the same kind (or amount) of concentration as keeping thousands of lines of code straight in your mind while trying to track down an obscure edge case.