Open Office Spaces

What I’ve done at my lab is go with an open-office floor plan (small cubicles) for marketing and customer service (roughly 1,2 meter high cubes, and customer service is hot-desk.) Knowledge workers and technical staff are in shared offices with 2-4 people depending on floor area. Being a former programmer, I hate open spaces with a passion, but the edict from Corporate is that only senior staff and managers get private offices, period. It’s not ideal, but it works within the parameters I have to work with.


And this has always confused me, because who goes to the most meetings? And who spends all day at their desk working on a document, or coding?


I know… I’ve fought that battle more than once. I’m the big boss now, yet I spend almost all my time on the lab floor, in the conference room, in the creche, and in the lunchroom. The only time I’m in my office with the door closed is when dealing with budget or HR issues.

Corporate rules often make little sense. But on the other hand, Corporate stupidity is why I am the boss, so go with what you’ve got! :slight_smile:


This I could deal with.

My team and I chatter a lot about various issues, spreading info around and making sure we’re all in the loop. Text is just slow for a lot of it, especially when it’s a general situational thing and not important enough to write up a referenceable document for it. But I’m constantly cringing when thinking about the rest of the people in the office who are being forced to hear us talk about technical issues or concerns that they have absolutely no interest in or exposure to.


Nothing says “you are a completely interchangeable commodity” quite like not having a regular work space. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

The first time I ever saw that was at a consultancy, where employees were off-site as often as not, so it kind of made sense in a sort of statistically clever way.

But I’m convinced that, at root, these things are always driven primarily by cost. Open-plan is not better, it’s just cheaper. Or rather, it’s cheaper in a way that’s much easier to measure than lost productivity. Hot-desking feels like just the next, cheaper iteration of open-plan.

Cynical me says the next step is no-office (no-desking? no-plan?), because why should the employer spend any money at all on the work-environment of their employees? This is otherwise known as remote work, or work-from-home. :grin:

I see a lot of people who are enthusiastic fans of remote work, with the full-time remote position sort of being the platonic ideal. I get the appeal, and I like to be able to work from home when the circumstances warrant it, but I don’t think I could do it full time. Mostly, I think it would make it too hard to separate work and home life, but expense plays some part too. I’d definitely spend a lot more on my home office chair if I sat in it more than a couple hours at a time, for example. And if you do it regularly, you really need a dedicated office space. And from the business’s point of view, what could be better than getting your employees to pay for their own office space?


Yeah, but I figure what it costs in office space (meh, I’ve got a computer setup anyhow) I save in commuting. And counting the commuting, I can work two extra hours a day without infringing on my regular home time.

And do my laundry at the same time.


For people further up, sure, but not for your average advisor-level drone because otherwise how else are they going to keep an eye on them? They could be having unauthorized bathroom breaks! :scream:


It’s an unpleasant fact that this is true, in both ways.

I can only speak for my company, but first-level Customer Service folks (call center) are entry-level positions. We hire off the street for these jobs, and we get people with minimal skills. There is always turnover, and there are always openings. These folks are just meat for the beast. It’s nearly impossible to screen for these jobs, since the qualifications are minimal. They ARE interchangeable, much as I wish they weren’t-- we spend a lot of time and resources keeping the call center staffed.

Basically they answer the phone, look up information, and relay it to the customer. They do this 150 times a day, every day. Anything beyond their competence gets kicked up to a second level, and beyond that, a third level. If the new hires survive three months (essentially a probationary period, though it’s not called that) they are eligible to move up to the second-tier and so forth. Specialized language skills can help them move up, but EU employment regulations limit how we can hire for language skills, so we don’t even ask that question. These folks are very limited in what they can do, are closely monitored, and not a lot of them last their first three months.

The ones that do last have options. Every single person who works for me has a potential career path, and they know that from the day they are hired. Also, everyone who works here is an employee, from me on down to the lunchroom and creche workers, and everyone-- EVERYONE-- who works here knows what we do for a living, how we make our money, and has input into what we do and how we do it. That’s not a requirement, but I think it’s a just basic courtesy.

This is somewhat problematic. We spend a lot of time strategizing on how to hire these folks, how to keep more of them, longer, and how to more quickly impress upon them the rules, as well as their (and our) responsibilities. No matter what we do or how we hire. 25% of the new hires do not last. That’s actually better than industry standards. It’s a constant thorn in my side, and we cannot figure out a way to improve on the status quo.

We have experimented with using remote workers for the call center. We have technology good enough to allow this. We have a virtual desktop and communications setup that allows them to do their work, while still allowing supervisors to monitor them and ensure that they are working when they are supposed to be, and are fulfilling he job requirements. Rather surprisingly, this has not been very successful. There are a few people who work remotely full time, and a smaller group who does it occasionally, but for new hires it has been a dismal failure.

If you have any ideas on how to improve this process, I’d love to hear them!

Of course they are. I particularly detest hot-desking, but there is no alternative. I have a limited amount of floor space, a limited budget, and a defined number of calls that have to be answered and handled 24/7. The only way to expand things would increase costs exponentially, and that can’t happen.

It’s popular to think that the boss has magical powers and can do anything. In fact, I answer to people above me, and quite a few of them. I receive direction sparsely, it often conflicts with other direction from other people. I have a budget and financial restraints that are entirely out of my control. I also have a responsibility to the 400 people who work here.

I’m not complaining, merely explaining-- I am extremely well paid, I enjoy the challenge, and I think I’m good at it. And I’m not an idiot-- I recognize that my performance and continued employment depends on every one of those 400 people doing their usual excellent work.

Wow, this seems to have turned into a major rant. Guess I was due for one.


My ex had a similar job - though more physical labor - at a company he worked at. They ended up just hiring a temp agency to constantly recruit and fill the job.


Yeah, but you’re giving loads of interesting info. I used to train people for e-mail and chat support implementations, and one of the things we quietly watched out for was language proficiency. (If you asked someone next to you for a translation during the final exam, that was pretty much an automatic fail, because we used to write those things in very basic English on purpose. If you asked the trainer for clarification, that was okay.)


We’ve tried that, but it didn’t work. For one thing, we don’t hire temps as temps-- everybody who works here is an employee. That way I know they have skin in the game. Temps don’t, and it shows in their work ethic. And the quality of employee we got from agencies was very variable. No quality control, and screening was abysmal. They would send what they had, whether the person met our criteria or not. And we have to be very careful; in the EU, it is not as easy to fire a bad employee as it is in the US, and doing so too often will bring scrutiny from the government. We get enough of that already-- this is a very highly regulated industry.


No commute is undeniably a big plus, but why would you spend the time you saved working?!?!?! :crazy_face: Seriously though, my commute is not too bad, so my favorite part of WFH is not wearing pants. Or sometimes even not showering. I am, somewhat shamefully, not joking.

Ah, but with the all-seeing Eye of Sauron VPN logs, it’s trivial to keep tabs on your employee’s work habits, even when you can’t literally peek over their shoulder in meatspace.


On a regular basis I wouldn’t, but it’s nice for deadlines.


I think we’re talking about two different populations of employees. My organization also has 24/7/365 positions, and they share a workspace, but I think of it less as hot-desking and more as a shift-change. I agree that it’d be silly to have two thirds of your office space sitting empty at any given time just to prevent folks from having to share resources. But if all the desks are going to be sitting empty at more-or-less the same time, and the people who occupy them are expected to work irregular hours (i.e. salaried and not punching a clock) then it seems kind of unnecessarily cruel to deny them a predictable work environment.

This is so huge, and a credit to your organization. Seriously, kudos to you. It may be a “basic courtesy”, but lots of places neglect it.

Pay more. If it works for CEOs, then it should work for the hoi polloi.

And I’m only half-joking about this. My first posts in this thread were thinking primarily about more-or-less skilled professionals, or so-called knowledge workers, but I think it can also apply to the unskilled and entry-level positions as well.

Anecdotes are not data, but when I was working various food/service-industry jobs in school, I figured out pretty quickly that one shitty job was just as good as any other shitty job. If my boss turned out to be a bastard, my attitude was like “dude, I’m washing dishes for minimum wage; you are literally not paying me enough to put up with your bullshit” and I’d go find another job. Eventually, I ended up in a kitchen that paid just a little bit more than other places and where the owner didn’t treat everyone like peasants, and stayed there until I graduated. And they had comparatively little turnover.

It sounds like you’re in the EU, where they still have at least a modicum of civilization, so perhaps my experience is not relevant to your situation. Here in the U.S. we’ve abandoned even the pretense of fair play, and exploiting the little guy is genuinely seen as a virtue by a distressingly large portion of the population. It’s more about keeping score than anything else.

One place I worked had had two open positions for forever; they were just enough below market rate that they weren’t even getting decent applications. By happenstance, they found a guy that had just the right set of skills such that he could cover both positions; not quite a purple unicorn, but pretty close. Predictably, he wanted “too much money”, even though it would have been cheaper to pay him what he asked than to hire two other people at the advertised rates. The stumbling block was that he would have been making more money than his immediate supervisor and that simply could not be allowed. The solution, of course, was to pay him what he was worth, but only after promoting his manager so that he’d still be making more money than his direct report.

But I’m not jaded. Really, I’m not. :innocent:

In a thread about open office spaces, I would expect no less!


Fair enough. And I’m betting that if you’re willing and able to work extra to hit a deadline, there’s likely some reciprocal flexibility from your employer, which is always nice.

And lest I come off like a complete crank, let me say that I really do like remote work as a perk and an option, it’s just that the pessimist/realist in me expects some MBA-wielding-weenie to come along and ruin it for everyone, somehow.

But anyway, that’s enough righteous indignation for me on a Wednesday night. I feel certain my time and energies would be better spent at the RDSA.


One of the business that my org provides IT Architecting and Support, just gutted one wing of corporate turning it from “50% Office\Conference room & 50% Cube” to Open Floor Plan…with bar height desks, couches and Huddle spaces.

Because that’s what the “Millennial New Hires Wanted” and they were trying to bring in younger talent.

Oh…and didn’t think to bring in IT until after the original WiFi access points couldn’t handle the influx of now no one being on LAN. And then the other horrors began to emerge. I don’t have anything directly involved with that project. Some ancillary concerns on presenting PPT onto big TVs. (Hint - It’s still an HDMI cable.)

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy


This. It worked for Henry Ford and it can work for you too.

Think of it this way. If you pay minimum wage then the opportunity cost for the worker to quit and find a similar job paying a similar amount elsewhere is small. But if you pay more (and Ford was paying twice the going rate) then they may find a similar job, but they won’t find the same money and suddenly losing the job is expensive. This stops you hemorrhaging staff which means you can then focus on managing performance (or promoting them to customer depending on how competent they are) which improves productivity and provides a much richer pool of talent for internal promotion, which has a knock on benefit of requiring far less training for the new role.

It’s a win-win.


But upper management can’t afford a second yacht. Where is their winning?


Did it work?


Mixed opinions is what I hear.

I think ultimately, there was a “cool Idea” that cost $X (where X is a very large dollar amount) and so they did it for $Y (Where Y is a much smaller sum) and it checked off the boxes, but (IMHO) didn’t quite make the cut.

But, I’m just a man. In an Office. With a Door. At the end of the air duct run so I’m either roasting or freezing if I leave the door closed.