The Open Office Layout – A Good Thing, Or A Hot Mess?

Is ease of collaboration a good reason to configure your office this way? No cubies. No partitions – high or low. No privacy whatsoever. Or is it just plain unproductive? Let me count the ways.

I’ve worked in corporate environments where the powers that be thought this sort of working set-up was the cats PJs. I absolutely loathe this working configuration. Even though nearly 70% of offices today seem to gravitate towards this working arrangement.

Rumor has it, that more and more workers are becoming rather dissatisfied with their surroundings, and finding that their stress levels are rising while their productivity is falling. It’s distracting, it negatively impacts personal health which ultimately leads to job dissatisfaction and just plain bitchy, generally unhappy workers. [Read: lotsa personnel turnover or people deciding to find a job where they can work in the privacy of their own office.]

Besides the constant interruptions, lack of personal privacy, and (for those more on the paranoid side) having this feeling that someone is always looking at you (UNWANTED OBSERVATION), there’s the NOISE factor. Can you say – “AHHHH! There’s people yapping, talking, YELLING all around me! How much more of this can I take?!”

I have to admit, that when it comes to collaborating in a working environment, an open office configuration may be a good thing in some situations. However, a recent study of more than 42,000 participants indicates otherwise. As a result of this ‘open-air’ environment, the lack of  confidentiality is right up there in the top 10 list.

What if you have a job where you’re constantly on the phone? Or at the very least, you have to make outgoing calls (let alone accept incoming calls) on occasion? I’ve been on the phone with tech support people, people in billing departments and general information, sales departments, where it’s actually very difficult to hear the person you’re speaking with because of all the commotion going on around them in the background. Call centers, I know, are notorious for this. I recently did a very part-time gig with T-Mobile here in Albuquerque. It was a position as a call center associate. They believe in the wide open spaces approach to their working environment. After not quite 3 weeks, I ran out the door screaming. Yeah I know. Being a bit dramatic here but hey…

Yes, you can use headphones (if your company allows it) to block out some of the riff-raff. But what if your in the middle of your favorite jam by ACDC and you don’t hear your phone ring? You miss that one super duper important call you’ve been waiting for weeks to receive?

Ever heard of ‘Crowding‘? ‘Crowding is the psychological state that occurs when the need for space exceeds the available supply.’ [Resource]

And did you know, that 50 % of individuals in this ‘fish-bowl’ type sitch make more mistakes and take twice as long to finish their work? Julian Treasure, who is a ‘sound expert’ says in a Tech Radar interview that “What we hear drastically affects our stress levels, our productivity and our mood and makes you 66% less productive…”. 

To sum it up, I’ll give you a few pointed reasons why an open office environment is bad. Very bad.

  1. Privacy
  2. Confidentiality
  3. Noise and Talking
  4. Unwanted Observation
  5. Elevated Stress Levels
  6. Constant Interruption
  7. Constant Distractions
  8. Job Satisfaction (or lack thereof)
  9. Negative Effects On Personal Health and Welfare
  10. It Makes One Very Bitchy

Check out this article on Forbes on ‘Why Your Open Office Workspace Doesn’t Work‘.

Please leave me a comment below. I’d be very interested to know if there’s anyone else out there in this great Universe of things that feels even a wee bit as I do.

Cheers,