Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Losing All Privacy

At my day job, we're going to what is called an "open-plan office." Otherwise known as densification or becoming LEAN.

If you work in a job that still requires you to actually drive to an office each day like it's 1998, you know what that means. It means we're going from this:

To something vaguely resembling this:

The goal of an open-plan office, says experts, is to encourage collaboration by ripping down the walls and letting everyone share space with their co-workers. It will encourage collaboration, they say, and for that reason approximately 70 percent of American employees now enjoy a wall-less office.

The problem with an open-plan office is not all jobs require collaboration. Think of accountants and software developers. Sure, both jobs occasionally require teamwork, but there are simply some jobs that require someone to hunker down and get to work.

Which is why the workplace is shifting toward home. Those who don't need to collaborate work from home, where there are numerous other distractions like annoying neighbors and garbage trucks. Plus, when you work from home, the guy down the street assumes you are free at 10 a.m. to help him haul mulch to his back yard. Either way, it seems to me that as unattractive and prison-like as picture number one is, maybe people need those walls. Because, more often than not, when co-workers are talking to their neighbors, they aren't collaborating at all. They're gossiping.

What do you think? Do you have experience with an open-plan office? Does it work?


  1. I am an introverted extrovert. With walls, I hunker down, block out the world and work. Without walls, I "collaborate" constantly. I've worked in both situation and the only thing I can comment on is my personal experience. I don't like to be rude so it's difficult for me to shoo people out of my office when they plop down to socialize. If someone is in my space, I will be hospitable to them. I probably won't last long in this new environment. The last time I was in an office like this, it was the late 1980s. The lady across from me and I were reprimanded constantly for talking, laughing, sharing our weekend exploits and more. I won't say this is the reason the company went bankrupt and closed the doors, but I venture to guess it was a contributing factor. We were talking, the ladies in accounting were talking, two of the employees became "very friendly" during work hours (they sat side-by-side, elbow to elbow as in the photo you provided). The two the secretaries usually weren't talking—they were arguing or shouting at each other. The only one not talking was the President. He came out of his office occasionally to tell all of us to STOP TALKING AND GET TO WORK! Since he couldn't fire everyone, the only thing that stopped the socializing was when the doors were closed and padlocked. We felt bad for him, but when he designed the new office space several of us tried to tell him the open space layout wasn't a good idea. It was outdated, as in the 1950s typing pool mentality. Most of us went on to work for companies that knew better. They had cube walls. Fences make good neighbors and walls make good workers. It will take a couple of years of looking at productivity and the bottom line for the "decision makers" to realize their mistake and much longer and a lot of $$$ to rectify it.

    Valerie (I'm marking this anonymous because I can't get the other options to work!)

  2. My job isn't the type that needs collaboration with anyone (other than my boss). Even though I am not in a cubicle/pool environment, my office is very public facing. I find that I like a bit of interaction, but not a lot, so I often tune people out by listening to music on my computer while I work. Headphones dissuade chatting. :)

  3. Anonymous--I feel ya! It all goes in cycles. Give it 20 years and we'll be back to walls again. Actually, more forward-thinking offices are offering flexible seating, where you can sit in a shared area in the morning, then move to a private office in the afternoon. You have to work with a laptop for that to happen and I think it'll be a while before the more old-school offices move in that direction.

  4. Lickety Splitter--Headphones have been my friend for the past five years! The only problem is that you can't really tune out the visual distractions. People walking by to the bathroom, that sort of thing. Plus, there's something about being out there in the open that makes focus shift. It's interesting, but we all have environments that we work best in. I guess it's not a supervisors'/business owners' duty to worry about accommodating all those different work styles.

  5. We had a mix of cubicles and open concept at my old workplace, but when we moved into our new building, the walls came down, for the most part.

    I actually had both. My desk - open concept and I did collaborate more with everyone around me when I was in the office area, but a bulk of my time was spent in an editing room. Sometimes you need to shut a door to in order to get work done, as well as not bother others.

  6. Dan--I think so. In most work environments, the "enclaves" could work for that type of thing, but in my workplace I think that would be abused. If people had laptops (most don't), they'd camp out in there...then people would complain, etc. In the private sector, you have a mix of people working in the field, working from home, and coming into the office, right? It's not quite the 8-5, sit at a desk workplace it used to be. But maybe I just get that view because I write mostly for and about small businesses. Larger businesses still may be filled with employees at desks using desktop PCs.

  7. Someone posted this on Facebook. Interesting. I have found that younger generations work better when they aren't expected to punch a timeclock and instead are free to work whatever hours they want, wherever they want, as long as they get the work done: