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How do I hate open plan offices? Let me count the 63 ways


By Samuel Scott | The Promotion Fix columnist

February 4, 2019 | 13 min read

Open office workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your high blood pressure.

open-plan office

/ Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

If you work in marketing, media or high-tech startups, you probably spend the day in an environment worse than the one in Office Space. Yes, here are just a few reasons why shared workspaces give you a permanent case of the Mondays.

1. You sit in an open office because it is supposedly cheaper. But when you adjust for a 15% ‘productivity tax’ on each employee, the design actually leads to a net loss of $578,000 per year.

2. Top executives and investors think only about the short-term savings of open offices and not the long-term cost.

3. VCs think that having anything but an open office is a waste of their money.

4. I do not want to smell the chicken vindaloo you are having for lunch.

5. No one does their fucking dishes.

6. If ‘collaboration’ is the reason for open offices, then why does everyone sit in rows with headphones all day and stare silently at their computer screens?

7. Open offices are meant to increase face-to-face collaboration but actually reduce it.

8. The ‘collaboration’ reason is bullshit. Check the nose length of any boss who says otherwise.

9. Certainly no one ever collaborated before in companies without open offices.

10. How much ‘collaboration’ do you really need to do your job? Useless, redundant meetings are bad enough.

11. There is more internal group tension in open offices than in Oasis.

12. People are frustrated by distractions.

13. Workers are less productive when they hear background noise.

14. 95% say working privately is important to them while 31% have to leave the office to get work done.

15. Workers lose more than an hour per day due to distractions.

16. A typical open office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes and needs up to 25 minutes to refocus on the original task.

17. Independent designer Amar Singh: "Cool, you’re going to spend a fuck ton of money on talented engineers and designers and then put them in an environment where they’re constantly distracted. Airtight plan."

18. “Slack is like an open office placed right in my skull.”

19. Panasonic actually released the ludicrous Wear Space: “A prototype product that can only really be described as horse blinders for humans. The wraparound head-shield, which includes noise-cancelling headphones, is a sleek, contemporary way to prevent distractions from colleagues in open-plan offices.”

20. If open offices are so wonderful, then why do most top executives give themselves private offices?

21. 73% of 8,700 techies in a Twitter poll by David Heinemeier Hansson – the founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails – said they do not like working in an open office. But this will be ignored.

22. Individual teams should be in the same room, but software engineers and marketers rarely need to ‘collaborate’.

23. Bosses want to show off entire floors of busy worker drones at a glance to self-important visitors.

24. People are more sick.

25. Employees take 62% more sick leave.

26. Open offices cause high levels of stress, conflict, blood pressure and staff turnover.

27. People still come into work while sick and risk infecting literally everyone.

28. I needed this column to vent many past frustrations from open offices.

29. I will never work in an open office again.

30. People are less friendly.

31. You had more privacy in your high school locker room.

32. Former journalist and current communications specialist Lauren Gilmore: “My very first job at a startup was in an open office environment. There was zero privacy, so I had to make media calls in the hallway – either crouching so I could take notes or pacing around for an hour in conference calls.”

33. If you take a necessary break to watch mindless YouTube videos for a few minutes, everyone thinks you are slacking off because they can see your computer screen.

34. Those times – every single day – when the entire office had to hear a much-younger colleague across the room loudly recount his dating and bar room exploits from the night before.

35. Those times when entire floors had to hear the constant sexist and vulgar banter coming from bro-dominated sales teams.

36. Those times when people were shouting on the phone with their spouses during arguments.

37. You see through transparent or non-existent walls that your boss is interviewing someone, and you have no idea if it is a new member of your team or your replacement.

38. Open offices are the white-collar equivalent of clothing sweatshops.

39. Open offices were historically used by factory foremen to keep an eye on all employees from above.

40. “Open offices are factory farms.”

41. “Open-plan offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell.”

42. Herman Miller chief executive Robert Propst had to invent the cubicle in the 1960s in response because the open office layout ‘saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment’.

43. Five studies show that private cubicles are superior to open offices.

44. Companies still brought back open offices because almost all ‘workplace innovations’ are simply methods to save as much up-front cash as possible.

45. Open offices are not a workplace advancement but a workplace regression.

46. Someone is always loudly yapping on his or her mobile phone.

47. You need to find an empty conference room just to make a phone call.

48. Supposed ‘workplace innovations’ treat workers worse and worse with each passing year.

49. People are more miserable.

50. Impromptu, mandatory company-wide social gatherings stress out introverts.

51. Hearing nearby colleagues gossiping about you while knowing that you sometimes do the same about them.

52. Open offices might just beat Six Sigma as the dumbest corporate idea of all time.

53. Apple workers had to revolt after learning that they would work in an open office in the new Apple Park campus in California.

54. Open offices are even worse than the workplace in Office Space. Damn, it’d feel better to be a gangster.

55. Managers randomly assign people to new seats for no good reason.

56. People do not personalise their desks with family pictures or sentimental items anymore because they are no longer attached to their work stations. Offices become sanitised, boring and impersonal because workers feel less ‘at home’.

57. Younger people are increasingly ‘pretending to love work’ as they quietly suffer open offices and other workplace indignities.

58. Open offices encourage ‘performative workaholism’.

59. Open offices kill diversity and equality.

60. Open offices merely give management more control over workers.

61. Open offices are just one example of how ‘the workplace is killing people and no one cares’.

62. Employers who think their employees like their open offices should have the guts to do an anonymous, open vote. They will find that workers fake support so they do not annoy management.

63. Your boss will read this column, ignore it and keep you in an open office because he thinks it is cheaper.

The Promotion Fix is an exclusive biweekly column for The Drum contributed by global keynote marketing speaker Samuel Scott, a former newspaper editor and director of marketing in the high-tech industry. Follow him on Twitter. Scott is based out of Tel Aviv, Israel.

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