Open Office Spaces

I’m not sure that accessibility for guns is accessibility for the rest of us.

Open floorplans make it harder to control noise levels, or lighting, or accommodate some people’s service animals and other people’s phobotherophobia.


I, for one, hate open office spaces with a passion.

The most open space I worked at was for a software company (software companies love these) that had one room called “the cage” for the main development staff. This was a room with about 15 workspaces all in one room, with about 8 snaked along the outer walls and the rest in the interior of the room. It was so uncomfortable to be in that room.

The other offices, mostly for the tech support and marketing teams, were along long tables, laid out in rows, with little dividers that separated the workstations. I worked right next to my super strict boss.

All the rooms had glass walls.

One day this company got a project for Playboy and they had to mock up Playboy’s SFW site. Well, they had to create this super weird room where the developers on that project had to work. They put up paper over the glass walls. Sure was uncomfortable for women. Also I think odd for the mostly Indian men who worked on the project.

So, we all had instant messenger apps on our desktops and this is how we really talked. I was good friends with one of the lead programmers there and I think most people didn’t even know we knew each other.


I think it sort of depends on the type of work. When I was a research associate, I worked in an office with two others, and it was really productive. But we also had access to more private office space (not full offices, but cubicles), and were able to work from home basically whenever. So I think open plan is OK if it’s not the only option.

But like you noted, @MarjaE, it just breeds ADA issues. If everyone has access to an office space with a door that can close, conflicting accommodations for a service animal and someone else’s phobia of large dogs are easier to manage. If the walls are solid, not glass fishbowl walls, it’s easier for someone to just use their office to express breastmilk or use a medical device in private. I can’t see converting an office to open plan.


This has been the norm in every office I’ve ever worked in, simply to cut down on the noise.

When I first read Quiet by Susan Caine, I was very tempted to buy half a dozen copies and leave them on all the managers’ deals at work. We are constantly being told we have to be physically close to each other to work well. In Quiet, it’s discussed how this kinda sorta works for extroverts, but it’s introvert hell.

And then there are the studies showing the “chicken battery” style workstations in vogue now lead to increased ones and decreased productivity. Even the older style “veal pens” (as they were described in n Generation X) had this problem.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about innovation and collaboration, because those are BIG buzzwords at work, and yup, it’s all about face-to-face, shared space meetings. Interestingly, in the book Creative Confidence they show two of these collaborators working in a Starbucks – and they’re sitting side by side, coding away, wearing headphones.

Susan Caine points out in Quiet a lot of these “collaboration” sessions wind up being about who can dominate the room, and that a lot of our most celebrated transformers of culture – Gandhi, MLK, even Jesus – spent quiet time, alone, away from everyone, and then came back to society when they’d had time to think something through.

Although I like “fail fast”, I suspect part of the reason it needs to exist is because in these noisy environments, it’s hard to picture the finished product and go “wait, that won’t work”.

People need their quiet time – and space – to get the actual work done. Since that part involves managers the least, it also seems to be valued the least.


This is my big thing. The loudest people in the room dominate and they are not always the ones with the best ideas. Sometimes there are people who don’t articulate well or don’t like to speak up in a competitive space and so their ideas aren’t heard. I think good managers speak with people one on one and then facilitate a meeting where the ideas are already on the board from the one on one discussions, and the manager advocates for the quiet people in the room. I’m a loud person; have no problem speaking up, and I see that I can be a part of the problem and when I get to lead I try to make it more collaborative.


I’m what’s known as a “loud introvert” – I can assert in a meeting, but after that I want my quiet time. This is why teaching all day was so bad for me – at the end of each workday I wanted a whole planet to myself for a year.

I read somewhere that when JFK was in a group discussion, he would listen and listen and then speak up with what was described as a “knockout punch” of a statement. I don’t know about the “knockout punch” part, but I’ve been trying to emulate that ratio lately.

One drawback: in a larger group (say, more than 4 people), the madness of the crowd pulls things along. Twice recently I’ve presented ideas that everyone agrees should be the backbone of the presentation, but by the end of the meeting everyone’s forgotten and what we present, at the risk of sounding arrogant, just isn’t as developed. (Well, I know it isn’t because I did my work beforehand and what we present was quickly written in the one-hour meeting, spell-checked, and sent off.)


This is apropos.

Any open-plan opposition you have, throw it at me.

I am already planning to bring up women’s issues and privacy surrounding health issues. My work is doing a survey regarding a change to something more “collaborative” (open office, no or minimal assigned cubicles, etc.). They probably won’t listen, but I am going to be kicking and screaming the whole way.


I know that, at doctors offices, I often have to wait in the stairwells because of the lack of other non-painful and/or non-burning spaces, and then get harassed by security. 99% of shared space is pain space.


Can you ask for an accommodation in that they put you directly into a private room to wait? Your own doctor(s) should be aware of your situation anyway, so it’s not like you’d have to convince them.


I was recently moved from a private office into an open office plan at work.

I absolutely hate it. With a passion.

I’m a very introverted software developer. I need my personal space. I like having my personal stuff nearby. I need to be able to concentrate for hours at a time. I need people to not just walk up to me and selfishly start bothering me with their shit while I’m trying to think through a problem. I need to not have visual distractions from things going on around me. I need to not hear others chatting, snorting, sniffling, tapping pens, or humming to themselves. I need to be able to type on my noisy mechanical keyboard and talk to myself or yell out curse words without feeling self conscious about whether or not I’m bothering somebody else or worse yet have people start responding to me. I want to be able to talk on the phone without having to go into another room.

Worse yet I’m in a large room with another team that’s very social and either on the phone or yaking with one another. All day long. In the old days I could close my door and crank up my music. Now I can’t do that.

Every day is a struggle. To cope I have to wear noise cancelling headphones that aggravate my tinnitus. People aren’t considerate enough to leave me alone when my headphones are on so they come up to me and wave their hands in my face to get my attention or just start talking to me until I notice them (news flash: when my headphones are on, I can’t fucking hear you!!). I’ve been sick more times in the past six months than in the past several years thanks to people coming in sick and the wide open spaces. The interruptions and distractions are constant. It’s much harder to get into the zone and if I do it’s in spite of this environment, not because of it.

It sucks is what I’m trying to say.


These two things perfectly describe my life:

(Very vertical, click to embiggen.)


Most of my team sit in the chicken battery desks, two rows facing each other; I’m in a cubicle next to them (it’s a big team). At lunch, the desks look like an audio store’s headphone tryout table.


Ouch. Noise cancelling headphones feel like some sharp things are pushing their way into my eardrums.


I prefer to work in my own office, but I’m also somewhat open to open offices, for a couple reasons:

  • Pragmatism - it seems 90+% of software development companies operate in open offices, so I’d really be significantly narrowing my job opportunities if I refused.
  • Serendipity - It can be useful to overhear conversations that relate to your work and get more background or even join in. The casual conversations and working together can be way more productive than scheduled meetings.

Drawbacks include:

  • Uncomfortable - For some reason, open offices or cubicles never have comfortable furnishings. Even if there are couches, those aren’t comfortable to work at for long.
  • Anxiety triggers - I’d much rather sit with my back to the wall than have people moving around behind me in my blind spot, which triggers anxiety.
  • Multitasking load - although I can sometimes hyperfocus and tune everything out, for the most part I feel like I’m multitasking between working and socializing, which is inefficient and disruptive.

In the past, I would seek out an isolated spot to do actual work. Like an open table in a distant part of the building where another department worked and nobody knew me or would interrupt me. Or some quiet corner where I could sit on the floor and work until my laptop needed recharging.

Now I work remotely, so I have my own nice quiet office, and when I do go in to the company office it’s nice that it’s more of an open playroom than a work area because those are socializing days. On those days I’m not expecting to be productive. Between the hours of commuting, the inevitable socializing, and the rare chance for face-to-face discussions, no real work gets done.

So as long as you don’t need work to get done or the employees to be productive, open office can be ok. I think it’s better limited though. Maybe one day a week have everyone in the same room, to get the benefits of that serendipity and socialization, but the rest of the time let them work in offices where they can get stuff done.


You’re right. They do not work very well. Any phase imbalance just causes more audio pressure and, as insensitive as I can be, even I can feel it. I’ve always just defaulted to regular 'phones and turned the music up. That probably doesn’t work for you.


That’s because open plan is cheap and the reason for it is always to be cheap and good furni defeats that purpose.

My workplace is largely ex-military. Lots of people who can only work with their back to the wall.

For this reason, I face the wall.


Yeah, screw that guy in the tie.
A pox on his house!


This kind of says it all, doesn’t it? :innocent:

I’m blessed to have an office (with a door) at the moment, but I’ve spent my fair share of time in cube-land. The open-plan office is pure, cynical, poison for knowledge workers of pretty much any stripe. I’ll concede that it sometimes works for sales teams and the like, but I’ve always found the noise and distraction to be a net loss in my experience.


I’ve been sick the past few days (again) because some genius thought it would be a good idea to come into work sick. FML

They are biased toward Type A extroverts. Not for introverted creatives. It’s a poison for sure.


I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the special hell that is hot-desking. Nothing is ever clean. You always have to start by adjusting everything. It’s not even applied evenly as people who start early can always pick the same desks leaving everyone else scrambling for the least worst of the remaining ones.

I’m not saying that hot-desking can’t work in some circumstances. It makes sense to have a bank of hot desks for visitors, or those who aren’t in the office a lot. But if I come into the same building every day to work then I want my own damn desk!

In my experience morale also suffers. Hot-desking predominantly affects those at the bottom of the organisation who already have little influence over their work environment and this takes away the little bit of control they have.

TL;Dr Fuck hot-desking.