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Office Space: TV Documentary Looks At the Dreadful Open Office 314

Posted by timothy
from the get-to-your-cube-peasant dept.
sandbagger writes "The CBC (it's like PBS only without the begging) is broadcasting a documentary about the open plan office this evening. You can hear a radio interview about the documentary here. In this documentary, the history of the open office is looked at, how it has evolved, and how the justifications for it being best for everyone else are used by those with offices. Advocates say fewer doors and walls means more collaboration. Critics say it's all driven by bottom line economics--crowding more people into smaller spaces saves money. Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?"
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Office Space: TV Documentary Looks At the Dreadful Open Office

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  • I like the open plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GlobalEcho (26240) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:15PM (#46046709)

    > Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?

    It's just you...here's my anecdote from which you can synthesize data.

    I've had an office. It was lonely and I got sleepy. Give me an open plan any day, where I'm more productive and learn more about what's going on.

    (And for what it's worth, in the last few places I've worked, the multimillionaire bosses have always sat right in the middle of the open plan with everybody else).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:19PM (#46046755)

      Decent headphones make open plan offices bearable.

      I wonder if it's an extrovert/introvert thing.

      • by alexander_686 (957440) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:34PM (#46046959)

        It is kind of an extrovert/introvert thing. I have worked in both. Open offices encourages collaboration but discourages deep thinking. This has been my experience and there are studies that back this up. The odd thing is that you can skew people one way or the other depending on the environment. Extroverts skew towards collaboration but put them in a office and they do more deep thinking. Opposite is true of introverts. So it kind of depends on what you are trying to do.

        • by BonThomme (239873) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:41PM (#46047039) Homepage

          yes, everyone with headphones on, you can just see the collaboration, can't you?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          One new type of person I met I like to call the "punctuation farter." I met a fat, dumb slob who preferred to fart during certain words, but it was unclear whether or not he was trying to disguise his farts or reinforce his point. For example, he would say things like, "Yeah, if we drilled the hole *PBBBHHT*here, then we could have enough slack in the cable to move the light fixture that *PPBBBBHT*far from where it is (him farting plosively when he said "here" and "far").

          This "real life" thing is amazing,

        • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:43PM (#46047067) Homepage Journal

          I got moved to open office while still doing the same job. My productivity plummetted. I spend more time on slashdot than ever before because it's the only thing I can actually focus on.

        • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:55PM (#46047211)

          Open offices encourages collaboration but discourages deep thinking. This has been my experience and there are studies that back this up.

          In other words it sucks for things that require sustained concentration, like programming and engineering. If you're supposedly in one of those fields, and you don't need to concentrate, then you're probably doing no more than glorified clerical work.

          Yes, it's useful to informally hear about other things going on in the project, but continual eavesdropping (which also destroys concentration) isn't necessary. I find that the proverbial water cooler works fine. Even at times in the past when I had an office, they were kind enough not to lock me in during business hours. I could walk around to talk to other people (without disturbing everyone in the place), and could even go to the restroom without permission.

          • by pepty (1976012) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:16PM (#46047469)

            Open offices encourages collaboration but discourages deep thinking. This has been my experience and there are studies that back this up.

            In other words it sucks for things that require sustained concentration, .

            Absolutely. If anything it's management that should be in the open plan environment: their jobs are the definition of continual multitasking, small interruptions, and needing to keep tabs on everything going on.

            • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:58PM (#46047939)

              Fair enough!

              The only reasons the managers in my company have private offices are: to simplify the process of confidential meetings; to allow conference calls to be conducted on speaker with another member of the project team present; additional work surfaces and storage; and because they were built before we moved in.

              Better (more modern) office layouts with lots of teaming rooms (6x6' conference rooms), adequate medium and large conference rooms, and work surfaces and storage matched to job functions dramatically reduce the need for a private office. If you shrink the offices to 8x6 and get rid of the windows then most managers would prefer the cubes.

              For me, the biggest impact is a cube would make it harder for me to ride my bike to work, as I keep all my work clothing and toiletries in the office. The savings to the company would be about $2,000/year per office eliminated.

      • by Pepix (84058) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:40PM (#46047035)

        I wonder if it's an extrovert/introvert thing.

        I am positive it is.

        Ob. reference: http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/about-the-book/

        DISCLAIMER: I am in no way related to the author, just liked her book.

      • by operagost (62405) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:02PM (#46047321) Homepage Journal
        I'm a music lover, but I still don't want to listen to music through headphones while I'm working. And if you have to wear headphones to drown out the noise of your working environment, it means the working environment is faulty.
      • by ewibble (1655195)

        Not for me, I would say I am introverted,I am shy, I won't be comfortable talking to someone about anything non pragmatic for about 6 months.
        Took a online test at http://www.thepowerofintrovert... [thepowerofintroverts.com] says I am an introvert, no real surprise.

        But I like open offices, I am quite capable completely blocking out the rest of the world if I am busy, just ask my wife. But I like people, it definitely lets me know whats going on, since I won't actually go to the water cooler for a chat. In an office I would not make an

      • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:00PM (#46048481)

        Decent headphones make open plan offices bearable.

        Unless you hate wearing headphones and find music/talk distracting. Personally having to wear headphones all day would drive me insane in short order. I like a relatively quiet office with minimal visual or auditory distractions when I'm trying to get serious work done.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Decent headphones make open plan offices bearable.

        I wonder if it's an extrovert/introvert thing.

        I don't like listening to music whilst working, its a distraction. I also don't like earplugs or other forms of hearing protection that block out noise (my ears end up covered in sweat, which is uncomfortable.

        I like working in quiet areas, I can happily tolerate and filter out a certain level of background noise but open plan offices mean I have to listen to the vapid conversations of all the stupid people I inevitably have to sit near. In one of my previous jobs they put me right next to sales. I've los

    • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:21PM (#46046791) Journal

      >And for what it's worth, in the last few places I've worked, the multimillionaire bosses have always sat right in the middle of the open plan with everybody else

      I bet they didn't write much code.

    • The original founder of the company that got bought out by the one I work for currently still comes in to what was his old home office years later (though he doesn't work there) to work on his own persuits. Guy refuses a assigned parking spot, didn't want an office. Just sits at a desk right in the middle of the floor, like anything else.
    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:21PM (#46046803) Homepage Journal

      I'm still in cubicle land- and the ONLY time I can get anything productive done, is between 6-8am. After that, there is just way too much noise. Even headphones don't really help.

    • by BonThomme (239873) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:33PM (#46046943) Homepage

      perhaps I can interpret. you don't actually do any work. that's why you get sleepy when left alone. in the open plan, you keep yourself awake by bothering everyone who does do work.

    • by Antipater (2053064) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:42PM (#46047051)

      I like my company's open plan, too. Working in cubeville felt like I was in a pen - there was a subtle "what are you doing outside your cube? Your work isn't done yet!" vibe going on. It was dehumanizing.

      At my current job, we have L-shaped desks arranged into plus-signs, with all the monitors at the center. So if you want human contact, all you have to do is lean back to talk to the guy next to you. If you don't want human contact, just don't talk to the guy next to you.

      Now, I can definitely see how it can go bad. We keep peace and quiet because everyone in the room is also an engineer, and nobody wants to be Loud Howard. We keep our sales guys and people-on-the-phone-all-day in a different place. If those didn't happen, or if our "open office" was really just us being stuffed into a tiny space for budget reasons, then I would have a problem with it. But overall my experience has been very positive.

      • by pepty (1976012) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:30PM (#46047621)
        Then there's the other problem: there's a documented higher incidence of colds and flu in open plan environments. It's hard to concentrate when your head is exploding or you lack the energy to get out of bed. They also find higher blood pressure and stress associated with open plan, but that probably has more to do with the "stuffed into a tiny space for budget reasons" implementations.
        • by xelah (176252)
          AIUI, and a quick Googling seems to confirm it, there are physiological responses to noise that don't go away with habituation (though you do get habituated at a conscious level). It seems to have been looked at most with aircraft noise (eg http://pss.sagepub.com/content... [sagepub.com] - higher stress in schoolchildren from aircraft noise - and http://pss.sagepub.com/content... [sagepub.com] - poorer long term memory and reading). So maybe you should blame the noise rather than lack of space.
    • by CubicleZombie (2590497) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:43PM (#46047065)

      Any PHB who puts developers in an open plan has no clue what we do. Which they don't. Obviously. My last job put the developers AND phone tech support in the same room.

      My current gig is so cheap that it's an open floating plan where nobody even has their own chair and we telecommute half the time. So half the time I'm in a noisy office with a shitty laptop PC and no personal space, and the other half I'm at home listening to a screaming baby from the next room.

      I'm amazed at how much money they'll pay us in salary and then cheap out on little things that kill productivity.

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:17PM (#46046725)

    After reading the headline I seriously expected to see a documentary about Apache OpenOffice. That would've been a justified rant!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:18PM (#46046735)

    Switch to LibreOffice. It's much less dreadful.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:19PM (#46046763)

    Forcing someone to work in the same space as someone else is psychologically stressful no matter how fine you are with it.

    • Working is psychologically stressful.
      Every job has its annoying parts to it. And we can't have a world where everyone does what they want, because there will be a serious gap in what needs to be done.

    • Forcing someone to work in the same space as someone else is psychologically stressful no matter how fine you are with it.

      You think that's bad? When the company I work for sends 2 same-sex employees off for any sort of training or event, they only spring for 1 hotel room.

      I haven't found much in my career that's more unsettling than having to split a bedroom/shitter with someone who is, essentially, a complete stranger.

    • Much as I dislike open office plans, you do have territory in the form of your desk and a small area near it. It's the same as traditional electronics labs, where there are long lines of benches and no partitions. Your bench is your territory.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I mark my turf, carefully pissing along the perimeter of my cube. It really keeps people from bothering me, well, until the cops arrive..
  • I miss walls... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Moof123 (1292134) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:19PM (#46046771)

    Cubeville is bad enough. I'm having to overhear folks politics the next row over right now (not my politics...). For real design work you need to be able to shut out enough outside noise and distraction to really immerse yourself for a couple hours at a shot, and a door would be awesome right now...

    • Hell, I'll beat that. I had to endure two women talking very explicitly about their last births. Ain't no stacked wall of manuals that can keep that out.
      • Hell, I'll beat that. I had to endure two women talking very explicitly about their last births. Ain't no stacked wall of manuals that can keep that out.

        I assume you're a man (as I am), but I'll guess you don't have kids, or at least didn't see them born. After that, you wouldn't bat an eyelash at such stories, any more than you'd think much of (literally) handling shit when they're still in diapers.

        • by Gryle (933382)
          Defecation is just as natural (and more common) than childbirth but having a loud and explicit conversation about how big of a turd you just left in the men's room will probably get you reported to HR. Granted, I'm not likely to discuss such a thing but if I'm required to tailor my conversation to the sensitivities of other, they could show me the same courtesy and tailor their conversation to my sensitivities (within reason of course, I'm not talking about two people arguing over politics).
    • by evilviper (135110)

      Cubeville is bad enough. I'm having to overhear folks politics the next row over right now (not my politics...).

      Never mind politics... It's the guy 3 cubes down ALWAYS making personal calls for mundane crap, like getting his car's oil changed, getting his house cleaned, arguing with his wife about who's going to pick up the kids, etc.

      • Re:I miss walls... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cusco (717999) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:54PM (#46048413)

        I work in a Security Operations Center, where pretty much everyone needs to hear what everyone else is up to in order to make sure that alarms and events are handled without duplication. There's no cell reception here (in the basement of a data center), so anyone having to make personal calls steps out of the SOC anyway. It's really the first and only time that I have ever seen an open floor plan that actually made sense. Helps that the entire team gets along really well.

    • Maybe if the people around you had a good work ethic and worked it wouldn't be so noisy.

      Maybe you need to tell them to shut the fuck up and get back to work. Or suggest to their manager they need additional work.

      The company I work for pays me to work, not discuss politics while in their building. If I have to discuss something with someone in person, we have these things called 'conference rooms' with doors that close and keep the noise in the room. We also have this think called a 'network' so I can pick u

  • So long as you give people enough desk space and drawers to store stuff I think it works well for agile and paired programming. When it doesn't work is when some bean counter decides "Let's throw all the contractors into a meeting room". Things get cramped and stuffy. It also doesn't work when you have resource that take a lot of phone calls. They just end up disturbing everyone else.

    • It works well if they co-locate the buisness people with the programmers during initial development. It is wonderfull just being able to stand up and ask a question about the requirements. The stuffy meeting room occurs sometimes. It can be really depressing. We have given official names to all the confernce rooms. Most are named after planets and stars. We have a room whose official nickname is "shawshank". Also called "the closet". It is a tiny room with 1 door, 0 windows, and 10+ peolple in it. I think
  • by ThePhilips (752041) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:21PM (#46046797) Homepage Journal

    To me the reasons for the open office space are partially explained by this Dilbert strip [dilbert.com].

  • Oh wait, that's not what they are talking about.
  • by CarsonChittom (2025388) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:23PM (#46046825) Homepage

    Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?"

    It's just you, since I don't watch Downton Abbey. Make a reference to Doctor Who and I might get it, though.

  • Things really went downhill when Oracle took it over.

  • by Admodieus (918728) <john AT misczak DOT net> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:23PM (#46046835)
    The problem with open office floor plans is that every other office accommodation is also affected, but in a negative way - at least at the companies I've seen or worked in. Conference rooms are downsized as well and are given uncomfortable chairs (such as bar tools). Quiet places or "phone booths" are moved to reservation systems. Kitchens, cafes, and cafeterias are no longer respites from work, but just another area to hold meetings. Any office implementing an open floor plan should also set aside traditional offices, cubicles, or booths that can be rented out, ad-hoc, when a serious conference call or task comes up that requires undivided attention. Moreover, these workspaces should be equipped with all of the necessary amenities (laptop dock, second monitor, etc.) so that workers can truly come and go at a whim. Having to pack up my desk and wander the halls for half an hour just so I can hear myself think over the lady having the daily conversation with her college-aged daughter or the guy slurping his coffee is not productive at all.
  • Am I the only programmer in America who still has his own office (with four walls, and a door, and everything)? To me, the idea of working in a cubicle (or, god forbid, one of these weird open offices) sounds like a fucking nightmare. Shit, I hate it when the person in the office next to mine turns her goddamn music up too loud. I can't imagine working in an office where my co-workers were literally looking over my shoulder all day too.

    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      Music? No problem... most of us here in our offices like music.

      However, one lady has planned 3 weddings in the past 2 years, as well as various conferences and stuff that is barely job related.

      And, I found out last week that her son is getting married, so we're going thru another wedding plan....

      • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:16PM (#46047463) Homepage Journal

        Music? No problem... most of us here in our offices like music.

        But do you like all music?

        Because, see, I've got this Anal Cunt* CD I've been wanting to bring in....

        *Yes, it's a real band, and yes, they are absolutely terrible.

        • by fisted (2295862)
          I'm the lead singer, you insensitive cunt
          • Nice try, but if you'd ever listened to them you'd know the term "singing" is definitely not in their vernacular.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:35PM (#46046969)

      Am I the only programmer in America who still has his own office (with four walls, and a door, and everything)? To me, the idea of working in a cubicle (or, god forbid, one of these weird open offices) sounds like a fucking nightmare. Shit, I hate it when the person in the office next to mine turns her goddamn music up too loud. I can't imagine working in an office where my co-workers were literally looking over my shoulder all day too.

      You're not the only one - I am fortunate to have my own office at a university (staff, not faculty).

      However lately - no joke - some of the faculty have been talking about wanting to replace everyone's walls with glass panels. They've even got a design person to work on plans. Yeah, that'll work out well...

  • Hearing loss (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jordanjay29 (1298951) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:26PM (#46046859)
    I'm someone with a hearing loss (mildly hard of hearing, good enough for one-on-one conversation, adequate in group situations, bad in loud environments) and open office plans drive me crazy. My brain spends half the time trying to catch what people are saying, even as I'm consciously trying to block it out, and then I can't hear when someone actually needs to get my attention.

    It's worse when the folks who are used to talking at a low volume, to their computer screens, and can still be heard by the other person then have to talk to me, and can't figure out why I can't understand what they're saying. If they had to physically get up and walk over to me, instead of just talking across the open office, it would be far easier to work with.
    • by hodet (620484)

      I am in the same boat as you. Quiet environments are actually more essential to hard of hearing people.

  • by ChodeMonkey (65149) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:27PM (#46046873) Homepage

    Probably participation in an open office design should be optional so that all the extraverts can follow their desires and get together in one ginormous noisy collaborative hive and all the introverts can follow their desires and perform deep contemplative naval gazing in their alone-cave.

    • by BonThomme (239873)

      followed quickly by, "hey, where'd all the extroverts go?"

  • We have an 'open' office space. There is a scene in the movie where the hero finally gets fed up with his cubicle's stupidity and disassembles his cubicle wall. You see the bosses situated the hero's cubicle next to a window but with the cube wall BLOCKING the window. I used to have a nice cubicle with a great window behind me so I could look outside. But they recently moved me to a worse cubicle. But I can't really complain. The guy behind me has a cubicle next to the window. Guess how they put hi
  • >> it's all driven by bottom line economics--crowding more people into smaller spaces saves money. ...and massively decreases productivity. Its amazing how most managers can never see the obvious unless it has a directly quantifiable $ value.

  • by MikeRT (947531)

    Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?"

    Lord Grantham (Robert) and his family regretted having to change with the times to become more efficiency-focused in their dealings with their renters and workers. These people are gleeful by comparison.

  • ... individual offices with glass wall, a door (sliding glass would be nice) and blinds. Each worker can open close door and/or blinds to suit their current working requirements.

    I've also found in my travels between individual offices and open bays of a few acres in size: The people that seem to love to continuous shoulder to shoulder contact with fellow workers are social creatures. They tend to come to work to make friends (no social life outside) rather than be productive. And they get upset if some pe

  • by Grizzley9 (1407005) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:43PM (#46047063)
    Why not both? I prefer the semi-open office plan where you have multiple cubicles in a group where 4 people share the square space and their cubicles have only two walls. Basically a large 4 person cubicle. It promotes communication between the people there but can be private and quiet enough so that you can focus and get things done.
  • The last place I worked had open office plan and I hated it. Noisy, no sense of my area to feel comforatable in. Just rows of tables not eveb desks. The owner and managers were a big part of making it feel so uptight, they discouraaged conversation, that SCRUM or meetings were time to exchange ideas. Development and SysAdmin involves sharing of problems, solutions, and communication is the key.

    I like having cubes and co-workers would come by to disuss work, or there would be group talks outside of th

  • It's not bad, as long as you can manage to claim a spot on the periphery (as I have). If I had to work in the middle of the floor, I think I'd have a problem. I've done this, but as soon as I was offered an opportunity to move, I chose a place out of the mainstream. I'm an electrical engineer, I do circuit, firmware and programmable logic design. When I'm head-down, the office plan makes no difference at all. When I'm less busy, it's not really any more distracting than a cube farm. I am glad, however,
  • I've worked with an industrial psychologist for quite a while now - they focus on things like pre-employment screening, improving employee efficiency, hiring (both from the company and candidate viewpoints) and so on.

    One of the things they'll point out is that not every employee has the same motivations or same 'best' work environment. You're going to get some that thrive in an open environment, and others that don't. You'll get some that spend more time chatting, and others that use collaboration to beco

  • I'm in an office and honestly, I'm not sure it's very productive (particularly not right now, heh). At a former employer we were five people in a fairly large room - IT&Ops. At yet another employer I know at least one sprint team that was placed in their own corner of the open office because they chatted so much with each other, they were annoying everyone else but they were very effective. I'm really not an extrovert and yet the office is lonely. Unless someone explictly tells me, I don't gleam into wh

  • by netsavior (627338) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:56PM (#46047235)
    I worked for a big corporate overlord for a long time, and for some reason every 3 years or so our cubicle walls got shorter. They started out at 6 feet high, which was great and quiet and semi-private. They got short enough so if you sat up straight and leaned forward, you could barely peak over... which was a little distracting.
    The breaking point was when they got lower than the average person's stupid mouth. Then EVERY phone call was basically broadcast across the entire warehouse of an office complex. Seriously, god help you if you are within shouting distance of sales, because you are never ever ever going to get any work done.

    As a final insult they shrunk our desks from U shape to L shape, then lowered the cube walls to desk height... so if something rolled off your desk, it could roll down the hall too. It was insanely stupid...

    Eventually they just sent all the tech people to work from home... since they had sabotaged our work so much at the office, we might as well take the initial hit on telecommute.
    I am all for ruining the office so badly that we no longer regard meat based presence as mandatory, but I wish it could happen faster, rather than the phased "lets ruin everything every 3 years" approach.
  • I have worked in nothing but open office environments over the years, and I hate them. I know all the usual BS arguments for them, such as "fostering collaboration" and other buzzword crap, but if that works so well, why does everyone grab a meeting room in order to work on something? Instead of having a quiet space to focus on a problem, I get to hear my coworkers going on about how they're sick, the sports game I don't care about, and a hundred other things that I have no interest in, none of which are
  • Anecdotal Experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FellowConspirator (882908) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:44PM (#46047801)

    The company I work for has been migrating to the open-office concept over the past year or so, first with a new building, and then by doing floor-by-floor conversions of existing buildings on the campus. Some of the people are being migrated from offices to desks, some from cubicles to desks. Almost everyone has been very good about going along with the plan and giving it a shot. The results are a mixed bag, overall, but as time goes on, it's proving to be more a liability than an improvement.

    Pros:
    Everyone gets new furniture, and the worse shape their old furniture was in, the better the first impression.
    The lighting is MUCH better - even in areas that don't have direct sunlight; the large number of smaller light sources on the ceiling with little obstruction works well.
    There's more people in the same area
    - makes more efficient use of space
    - don't have to walk as far to get to someone

    Cons:
    There's more people are in the same area
    - in the older buildings, this means that the number of toilets is no longer proportional to the demand
    - its noisy; sometimes a little, sometimes a lot
    - people sneeze and it hits their neighbors
    - you can't make a phone call without annoying everyone, so now nobody uses the phone unless in a conference room; phone communication in general has dropped precipitously and now takes a back-seat to e-mail
    - folks are increasingly annoyed with their neighbors and it increases stress and some talk less
    There's visual distraction (things always coming in and out of your field of view)
    The clever storage ideas don't make up for the overall lack of storage volume or shelf space
    You can't have a conversation without annoying everyone, so you have to spend time hunting for a "huddle room" or chat in a stairwell or utility closet
    Older employees (>40) especially have a hard time with the din (and the white-noise generators don't help).
    It's super difficult to work on certain types of things - anything that has personnel info, or HIPPA protected info that you're not supposed to let your neighbors
    Anything that really takes focus (reading a complex scientific paper, for example), is really out of the question
    Lots of people try and drown out the din with headphones (which produces noises that annoy those without), and effectively the employees are being trained to tune each other out
    There's lots of "unplanned interactions"

    I think everyone agrees that we: are less productive, are not collaborating any more than before, and are collaborating less with the outside. HR is already noticing that people are using more sick days. However, I presume that the loss in productivity and decreasing office morale are offset by gains in energy and space efficiency (lower cost facilities).

    For me, it means that my work space has shrunk by 50% and I no longer have shelf space that I used to put reference materials and manuals on (all that's not sitting in boxes in my attic). I also just walk away from my desk when the din gets to a certain level where I can't concentrate on what I'm supposed to be working on. If you call my phone extension, it automatically forwards you to a voicemail instructing the caller to e-mail me (there's not even a phone at my new desk, none of have them). I don't read papers in the office anymore, and sometimes take what the office calls "productivity days" where I work from home (no, they don't give anyone money for home office stuff or to pay for Internet service). All of our experienced job candidates that have rejected offers have cited the open-office plan as a contributing factor in their decision not to accept the offer (we lead in compensation, so it's not like they wouldn't be well compensated).

  • by mrflash818 (226638) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:48PM (#46047823) Homepage Journal

    I worked for a Japanese company in the 90s.

    The white-collar workers all worked in a single large room. Desks all facing the top-level boss, and the bosses desk faced them, almost like an American elementary school classroom.

    We mostly worked like we were in a library: quietly.

    Zero privacy.

    It did seem to keep people from being chatty or goofing off in the office, if I remember correctly.

  • by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @02:28PM (#46048195) Homepage Journal

    Is it just me or do the people who want you to work in open offices sound like the nobility in Downton Abbey?

    No, the nobility in Downton Abbey seem to genuinely care about their help. I think some of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn books more sucinctly capture how management views and treats employees.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:21PM (#46049673)

    It's clearly the direction we're going. Herd the lumpenproletariat into open spaces so they can be survielled and managed more efficiently.

  • by drew_eckhardt (30709) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @08:23PM (#46052317) Homepage

    The problems are noise and interrupts. For simple problems less communication is better because minutes lost by an engineer using Google instead of his friend make a smaller impact than the fifteen minutes of context switch overhead which can result for the person interrupted. When more communication is needed people can always grab a conference room.

    IIRC IBM's Santa Tersa Laboratory - Architectural design for program development lists a 40% throughput delta for engineers in quiet spaces provided by enclosed offices or with partitions at least six feet high.

    With fully burdened per-engineer costs that can break $200K per annum open offices can waste at least $58K (I don't recall if the comparison was stated as 140% for the good performers implying you get $142.9K of work for $200K from slow ones or slow movers loose 40% of their throughput and don't do $80K worth of work) per engineer per year and cost more than closed offices.

    _Peopleware Productive Projects and Teams_ by Demarco and Lister provides some anecdotes and hard numbers in chapters 8 "You never get anything done around here between 9 and 5" and 9 "Saving money on space."

    Comparing coding wargames participants who performed in the first and fourth quartiles

    57% versus 29% have "acceptably quiet" space
    62% versus 19% have "acceptably private" space
    38% versus 76% do not have "people often interrupt them needlessly"

    Median time to complete the programming tasks was 2.1 times the best and bottom half as a whole 1.9 times the top half.

    Participants with acceptably quiet spaces were also one third more likely
    to produce zero defect work.

  • by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Friday January 24, 2014 @08:46AM (#46055099) Homepage Journal

    A French company I know about has different spaces for different functions.

    People doing clerical repetitive work sit in an open office area, but in small clusters of 2-3 seats so you don't feel like participating in a dystopian future.

    People that require to concentrate for long stretches of time have offices, shared between 2 people at most. In the middle of that area there are standing up long desks were these people can congregate with colleagues to discuss technical matters.

    There are lots of offices since most people are not doing repetitive work.

    They also have several meeting rooms of different sizes, tables of differing sizes where quick improvised meetings can be held, and the canteen is communal, airy with striking views of town centre.

    This is not a tech firm, it is an old school utilities company (oil, gas, that kind of stuff).

    A company that is not going to great lengths to understand the kind of working space its workforce needs is not helping itself.

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