Everybody loves open plan

I’m surprised it’s taken this long before there was a serious backlash against open-plan offices:

Organisational psychologist Dr Darryl Cross said workers were reporting major gripes with the open-plan layout and warned big corporations of a lack of productivity, the Herald Sun reports.

“People can’t feel free, open and relaxed. If they have to watch who is around and watch their calls then clearly they are not going to feel good,” Dr Cross said.

He said the open-plan office was born because it was cheap – not to benefit workers – and there was no doubt the system led to low morale.

“When you have a distraction it takes you 50 per cent more time to get back to it,” he said. “They can’t work in such an environment.”

Obviously it’s been a long while since I’ve been in an open-plan environment – barristers’ chambers are individual offices with doors you can shut if you need to concentrate on something, and most of my time is spent at court anyway – but I remember the outright opposition to such schemes at previous workplaces. One had to bribe staff with extra leave if they would just shut up and agree…

Does anyone – apart from the people in management who have their own offices – like this scheme? Have you grown used to yours, or does it still rankle at your soul every day you arrive at your desk?

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21 responses to “Everybody loves open plan

  1. The only thing that made it bearable at one public service department I worked at was that the head of the agency took the unusual step of decreeing that no-one – not even her – would have a traditional office. All the senior officers had open-plan workpoints. You wanted to talk privately, you found a meeting room. That had its drawbacks, but at least she recognised that double standards were hypocritical.

  2. I suppose it depends on the individual office, But sitting in an open plan office right now, I can say categorically that it is the most absurdly counterproductive attempt to improve communication between employees.

    At my old work the boss had us all move desks while work was done to lower the partitions a few inches. I think he had a Big Brother complex or something.

  3. My dept had a choice, we chose open plan, I guess we are quite disciplined, we know when to work, we know are deadlines, we know when we can afford to relax (and post on blogs).

    We don’t have partitions of any description, apart from the glass ones around our manager’s desk, he’s a hands on bloke, so more often than not he’s at a bench or desk leading by example.

    We love our very open plan office, we deal with data management and despatch in the education sector.

  4. I had an office once, when I was a jumped up underworked/overpaid peon at Telstra, I used to fall asleep after lunch.

  5. (our deadlines)

  6. My last job was in an open plan office and noise was a real problem. I had to deal with technical customer support problems over the phone while the accounts women yapped at high volume a couple of desks away. An Italian woman in accounts receivable was incapable of talking quietly and used to have long, very noisy rows with recalcitrant debtors. These invariably ended with her shouting ‘fucking idiot,’ after she slammed the phone down. I often wondered what my callers made of this. She was just as loud on her numerous personal phone calls, and I suffered through her various marital problems and real estate deals. While open plan offices undoubtedly increase employee communication, they also encourage a lot of idle chitchat and distraction.

  7. “I had to deal with technical customer support problems over the phone while the accounts women yapped at high volume a couple of desks away.”

    This is a good point, we don’t deal with external customers, most of our people are quiet, we are allowed to wear headphones, as long as it doesn’t impact accuracy (When editing or cleaning data)

  8. Not one cotton-picking bit. It’s god-awfully unproductive and painful, especially compared to having my own office with a window – I used to be able to see the squirrels, and they were merry.

  9. Working in a team of software engineers, not having an open plan is a complete pain in the backside. You talk to colleagues often, discussing problems, as you’re working.

    Currently my team leader is on the other side of 2 sets of monitors, and even that’s annoying, as we both have to bob up and raise our voices (disturbing the rest of the office) to talk.

  10. I can’t stand open-plan. I’d rather have a windowless office the size of a toilet-cubicle than be stuck in a room, day in, day out, staring at people who I don’t want to have anything to do with.

  11. Rohan – would it be okay if they brought in some squirrels and set them loose in the office instead?

  12. I dislike my open plan office because it means I have to be carefull when slacking off and posting comments on blog sites like I am doing now, because people can see my computer screen from their desks and as they walk around.

  13. Me too, but maybe I could convince everyone in the office to do the same thing as me, and that way people who spot me slacking off in blog comments could just leave me a message, in blog comments. Hey TimT! Get back to work!

  14. “t means I have to be carefull when slacking off”

    I had the privilege of picking my desk at our new site, my desk is in the corner, no-one can see my screen but me.

  15. The only time I’ve worked in an open plan office, there weren’t that many people in my workplace. However, the partitions were high, and you had a level of privacy, but you could still hear conversations.

    It didn’t make for a pleasant experience to hear the two women in the room speculating about my sexuality (while I was a closeted, shy 18 year old) because they couldn’t see me and didn’t think I was in the room.

    I think there is a certain etiquette that needs to be adhered to in open-plan offices (not talking about your desk-neighbours in the room, just in case they can hear, is one of them) and it takes a rare group of people to make it work successfully without the added drama.

  16. Dr Cross is only worried about open plan offices because productivity(dollars) is affected?…

    if battery hen cages improved efficiency i’d probably be sitting in one right now…

  17. I’ve never had a problem working in an open plan office, but maybe it depends on the size of the area, the number of people in it and the height of the dividers between you.

    In my previous job, the GM was right there with us and being able to look at my coworkers without leaving my desk was great for communication. In my current job the CEO is on a desk in the middle of the room.

    I think if its done uniformly it can be ok.

  18. My desk is currently located in front of a meeting room. Even though there is a partition, this doesn’t stop people from hanging right beside my desk having really loud conversations before and after meetings.

    I had to make a formal complaint about one of the managers because she would continue the meeting while standing in MY cubicle!

    Fuck open plan.

  19. “this doesn’t stop people from hanging right beside my desk having really loud conversations before and after meetings.”

    I’d just tell them to be quiet. IF the noise was bothering me. It’s not like they can say no, well they can but then they look daft.

    “I had to make a formal complaint about one of the managers because she would continue the meeting while standing in MY cubicle!”

    Did you ask her to be quiet before making the formal complaint?

    Also, have you asked if you can move?

  20. Funnily enough, all the people who do this are higher up than me. I’ve spoken to my manager and he’s mentioned it to them (unofficially) but it continues to happen.

    As for the one who was standing in my cubicle… She’s been asked repeatedly, and not just by me. So it had to be done.

    And I can’t move desks at the moment. Apparently I will at some point in the future, but in the meantime, all I can do is mention when things get out of hand.

  21. “She’s been asked repeatedly, and not just by me. So it had to be done.”

    Fair enough, I agree.

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