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

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).

  • 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...

  • 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 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...

  • 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 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 denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @12:58PM (#46047273)

    I come in late so that I can code late with no distractions

    All they care is that I put in my hours and produce.

  • 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 penglust ( 676005 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @01:39PM (#46047745)
    No, I don't know where you are going with this. A couple of people doing it wrong does not make an argument. I have worked on open floors, high cubes, low cubes, 2 people to a large office and everybody had their own 8x8 office with a door.

    By far was the best was the 2 person office. My office mate and I were working 2 sides of the same development project most of the time and the collaboration worked well. At the same time I large blocks of time to think about some real low level code I was creating. At the same time we never closed the door to the office and when ever somebody wanted to talk, work together, etc. they just came in.

    Since I have come back to cube land I have noticed there are many that sit in their cube, wear the head phones and will only communicate through chat or email even if they sit 3 feet away over a cube wall. Your lonely guy exists anyway.
  • 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.

    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

    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.

  • 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.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev