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#1 User is offline   MTP Reggie 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 01:30 PM

Why open office design makes you less productive
Oct 12, 2018
Aytekin Tank
Originally published on JOTFORM.COM

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525,000 square feet
300 million dollars
3,000 employees
1 open office

You've probably heard about the recent expansion of Facebook's Menlo Park campus. The new building, MK21, designed by Canadian starchitect Frank Gehry, is the pinnacle of today's open office design trend. For years, the open office design was touted as the new and improved workplace architecture. If the late 90s brought us Office Space style — dismal workspaces framed by lifeless, beige cubicle walls — the 21st century ushered in bright, airy open-plan offices.

Like unlimited snacks and craft coffee on tap, the open office concept seemed revolutionary — bound to improve the quality of an employee's work experience. Aesthetics aside, managers imagined that open offices would increase interactions between colleagues, and enhance cooperation and productivity.

Speaking about Facebook's previous office building, MK20, also a Gehry-designed open office, Facebook's then Chief People Officer said,

"It really creates an environment where people can collaborate; they can innovate together. There's a lot of spontaneity in the way people bump into each other, just a really fun collaborative creative space."


Apparently, even CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a designated place somewhere in the sea of desks. (Kudos to Zuckerberg for practicing what he preaches, if he does, in fact, work in the open office.)

Though the hype associated with open office spaces may make another day at the office seem a lot more appealing, the reality of these transparent offices — in terms of employee interaction and productivity — is a lot less clear.

The truth about open office design

More collaboration or more distraction?

The loud talker three desks down; constant taps on the shoulder; the guy who incessantly clicks his pen; the girl who eats a tuna sandwich al desko every afternoon. Many find themselves more prone to distraction in open office layouts. Since founding JotForm in 2006, we've dabbled in different office designs. And as we've grown to over 130 employees, we figured no other design felt like navigating a minefield — opportunities for destruction are all around. Many argue that open office design fosters communication between employees and such enhanced collaboration makes up for the negative impact distraction has on your team productivity. But do open offices really boost collaboration?

In 2018, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Ethan Bernstein published a study analyzing the impacts of open workspaces on collaboration. It was the first study of its kind to look empirically at how a transition to open offices affected employees' productivity and daily interactions.

The study found that employees had substantially less face-to-face interactions after switching to open office spaces.


Rather than increasing face-to-face collaborations, open architecture seemed to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact over email and instant messenger instead.

"If you're sitting in a sea of people, for instance, you might not only work hard to avoid distraction (by, for example, putting on big headphones) but — because you have an audience at all times — also feel pressure to look really busy." — Professor Bernstein


Beyond interactions, the study found that workers became less productive in open offices. What's more important from a managerial perspective, the quality of work decreased as well.

(snip)

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This post has been edited by MTP Reggie: 11 November 2018 - 01:32 PM

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#2 User is offline   MTP Reggie 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 01:38 PM

My previous employer made a move to a new building because we needed more space. We moved from a building with offices and cubicles to a new building that the company built out from scratch. The president of the division (who has since been let go because he ran the division into the ground), chose a 120,000 square foot warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Right from the beginning, he emphatically stated that we would never be put in an open office type environment like what you saw in the 1950s office photos where everyone was sitting at open tables in a large open bay.

Guess what happened. Guess what he designed.

The company spent $5,000,000 building out the new building into large, open bays/offices that seat everyone together.

Within 12 months of the opening, 20% of employees had quit. And since then the division has gone from 200+ to about 80.

Open bays are ridiculous as this article effectively points out.
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#3 User is offline   erp 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 03:16 PM

People like privacy. Simple.
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#4 User is offline   Severian 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 04:21 PM

When I first started my career, I worked at a major aerospace defense contractor. It had an "open" office, or what we called a bullpen. Rows and rows of desks lined up facing each other, back of one desk up against the back of the next, in long rows with no privacy. It was horrible. As much as cubicles are the butt of numerous jokes, when they arrived it was a huge improvement and we all cheered, even though it was several people per cube. Four in my first cube.

Open offices suck.
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#5 User is offline   Ticked@TinselTown 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 06:52 PM

Let's see, I remember working in an open office and I found that I didn't like the added noise, the way co-workers walked off with my stuff and I didn't like people watching me work while they sat around having phone sex with their significant other and munching on snacks all day long.

The cubicle system was still 'open air' but you had the simulation of privacy, you didn't feel eyes staring over your shoulder to see what you were doing and you didn't have to watch the other people around you getting paid to be useless while you put out fire after fire.
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#6 User is offline   Severian 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 07:21 PM

I remember interviewing with General Dynamics in the mid 80's at the San Diego facility. They had cubes, but the cube walls only went up about 8 inches higher than the desktop, so it was just about like the old bullpens. When the guy interviewing me asked if I had any questions, my first one was yeah, how do you manage to get any work done in these conditions.

And yes, they did offer me a job, but I declined.
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#7 User is online   Dean Adam Smithee 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 07:46 PM

View PostSeverian, on 11 November 2018 - 04:21 PM, said:

When I first started my career, I worked at a major aerospace defense contractor. It had an "open" office, or what we called a bullpen. Rows and rows of desks lined up facing each other, back of one desk up against the back of the next, in long rows with no privacy. It was horrible. As much as cubicles are the butt of numerous jokes, when they arrived it was a huge improvement and we all cheered, even though it was several people per cube. Four in my first cube.

Open offices suck.


Nothing wrong with cubicles....IF they're done right. Get some nice Herman MillerTM cubicles with the modular desktops, shelves, file cabinets integrated into the cubicles. Though I think HM prefers the term "Engineered Workspaces" rather than "cubicle".

Best I've seen? Intel Corp when I contracted to them in the '00s, first on behalf of the German multinational I worked for at the time then later as the "Smithee Organization". It was a "cubicle farm"... but done right. Row after row of cubicles. But ALSO an ample number of small-ish "conference rooms" that could be used for "Bull sessions"; impromptu meetings for a particular topic, though it was just as easy to go down to the cafeteria for a quick meeting.

Most "innovative" I've seen??? Honeywell's "Experion" control system as used by Chevron's refinery in Salt Lake City. The "Control Room" has 4 operators in an Open Office design with 4 Experion consoles with adjustable height: Lower them and sit like as a desk, or raise them and stand whilst doing your work ("Standing" desks is a 'thing' these days too.) Chevron also went the extra mile: Stationary bicycles at the consoles, if you wanted. Get your workout in WHILE working.

https://pacetoday.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Greame.jpg
Photo Credit: PACE Today (Process And Control Engineering): Inside the control room of the future: Experion Orion Console [VIDEO]

The "Smithee Organization"??? First office was, oh lord. But I learned from Intel. Your basic "storefront" space in an "office park". Previous tenant had 3 "hard" offices on either side of the oblong space and then cubicles in the center. Dank, musty, old cubicles. (my first thought was, "have bums been living here and pissing on the cubicle walls"? Yeah, well start a small biz, it's what you put up with.)

I started with 3 employees and a couple of contractors. Everybody gets on "office". Tore out the cubicles in the center, and hope to god the disposal company burned them. replaced it with a 12-seat conference table, for both "Bull Sessions" AND customer presentations.
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#8 User is online   Hieronymous 

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 11:02 PM

View PostSeverian, on 11 November 2018 - 04:21 PM, said:

When I first started my career, I worked at a major aerospace defense contractor. It had an "open" office, or what we called a bullpen. Rows and rows of desks lined up facing each other, back of one desk up against the back of the next, in long rows with no privacy. It was horrible. As much as cubicles are the butt of numerous jokes, when they arrived it was a huge improvement and we all cheered, even though it was several people per cube. Four in my first cube.

Open offices suck.


I have worked call centers before and they were open office. Took some adjusting to be able to talk with a customer while having several other conversations going on a few feet away.
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#9 User is offline   grimreefer 

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Posted 12 November 2018 - 12:40 AM

You think open offices suck? Try open berthing. Did that once... ONCE. :tantrum:
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