Open Offices - Good Or Bad?

I was just skimming an article on Facebook which had a shot of one of their HQ buildings:

It scares me as I prefer quiet and privacy to think and get stuff done. Obviously, Facebook has the money to do any office layout they want but this is what they prefer.

What do people feel about open offices like this? Curious, who uses an open office as well.


We have an open office layout, and I like it.  I'm not sure that everyone at the company likes it, but for us, I think it's important at this stage of our company's life cycle.  We have engineering, tech support, sales and marketing all under one roof.  That can make things loud sometimes, but it also is great for collaboration.  We have conference rooms where people can have calls with customers or other activities that need more focus/concentration, but the bulk of the work is in the open.

I understand that for writing articles or doing individual research our setup is not ideal.  (Our office not as crazy as the example above.)  For us, the ease of collaboration is necessary at this point.  I'm sure at some point there will be a shift, but for now, I have to say that for us, open offices are good. 

Yes

I honestly believe that most of the "benefits" people cite about open offices are made up. Open offices were created to allow business owners to build fewer walls and lower costs. They weren't built to encourage teamwork or collaboration. They very likely actually cost businesses money in the long run as they've been shown to lower focus, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Open office also encourage the "Hey you got a minute?" style of office interaction, which leads to no one being able to focus on anything due to constant interruption. It's maddening.

That being said, I'm fine sharing an office with 1-2 other people if we're all focused on the same tasks (and can agree on a music choice). But all in all I'd rather have my own office.

tl;dr: open offices bad.

Perhaps they're effective for some organizations but I can't stand a layout that open.  I'd be the guy on the lower right trying to focus despite all the background noise.  Plus it makes managing people that much more difficult when any performance feedback you give them is within earshot of everyone else.

I would disagree completely that it was done to lower costs by building fewer walls. While that may be the case in a very small percentage of scenarios, the vast majority of companies who do this spend boatloads of money on amenities instead -- kitchens, gyms, daily catering/foodservice, etc. 

I don't think cost ever entered into the equation. I just think some lunatic HR person got a wild hair one day and it became a trend because certain companies started doing it.

I also loathe open offices, for what it's worth.

I agree with you. I work from home when I am not traveling and I love the peace and quiet and lack of any interruption. It allows me to focus and get things done much better. If someone wants to ask me a question they can call me or email and I will answer when I have finished my train of thought.

I also do webinars quite frequently so I really depend on a silent environment in those instances. Hard to get absolute quiet in an open office. There seems to always be a competition for who can have the conference rooms.

 

That pic reminds me of a high school cafeteria at lunchtime, or a modern day hi-tech sweatshop. Terrible.

I work for a school district at the HQ building in an "open collaborative space" all day and I find it very counterproductive. We are so respectful of others trying to work so we are all very quiet so we don't interrupt. It's made the most anti-social environment ever. We have to go to a "drop-in" room just to converse. I know I'm interrupting neighbors when I have a one hour tech support call. I really feel for the HR and payroll people that need confidentiality.

If you are the boss and make the decision to do the open environment thing, make sure you also work in a cube. 

     

Also, open workspaces offer little protection from an active shooter, unless staff are armed.

We recently built our office from scratch. The design uses some open concept and has built in options for when people simply need privacy. Everyone has surfaces and they can use them in any room with existing displays and phones. The open area is for sales mostly and my ops manager is out there so they can hear whats going on. Sales has access to two smaller offices where they can go and have some privacy if they need to be on a certain call or if they bring someone in to the office they tend to use the conference room / design studio since it has JVSG and access to sample images and such.

Lead tech has his own space directly across from head of sales, and ops manager has line of sight to both of them for instances of nonverbal communication. Build room is facing the ops manager as well.

So far it has worked out well, even if there are times when its easy to get interrupted, however, thats what headphones are for if they are working on a specific design or something where they want to be left alone, the headphones are an indicator of that.

 

As for it being a budgetary thing... absolutely not. If that were the case I would have rented an existing space and made it work and taken home alot more money last year.

over half of ours are. ;)

open sucks.  just because these people had a layout like that back in kindergarten is no reason to set up an office that way.  zero privacy, maximal interruptions, no protection at all for the infrastructure.

Workplace 2020, get used to it the Millennials are taking over. 

 

So far it has worked out well, even if there are times when its easy to get interrupted, however, thats what headphones are for if they are working on a specific design or something where they want to be left alone, the headphones are an indicator of that.

But question: As the business owner, doesn't this seem highly inefficient? If your employees have to put headphones on in order to be left alone or focus on a specific design, does it not seem like the rest of the time they're being less productive?

It seems like that's an indicator that this is not an ideal office setup. 

So there are a few things here that are qualifiers.

1. I give them a space that they can use for when they want to be left alone or need to collaborate with one person. And I give them the technology to be able to do that. (Surfaces, docking stations, network shared files, etc) they can still choose to work in an enclosed space.

 

2. We are a relatively young company, and the observations made in the open area help speed up the development of SOPs and help to stop new people from stepping in the same hole so to speak.

 

3. The work can be done from anywhere and they sometimes do work from home as well. They are encouraged to use company cell phones to build a stronger relationship with the client, so the desk phone is almost superfluous. The desk itself is merely a home base.

 

There is a certain amount of unproductive time, however, remember this is the sales dept, they should be out at the clients site or running down opportunities. If they are at the office they are preparing quotes or working through a design (we don't have sales engineers, our sales guys need to be competent in design and problem solving). When they are working through a design I often hear them asking for collaboration in problem solving or for someone to verify their solution.

 

There are drawbacks, but for me, at this time, while building the operations and improving the way the business itself works, the good outweighs the bad.

Interestingly enough, everyone here is gen x or older. We've had a couple of millenials, but they couldn't hack it. It's more about the individual for me than their generation, but that's just how it has played out.

 

At the end of the day a huge chunk of employees are technicians and they have the most open office in the world. The field.

That said, my office has a door...

As for me this is a complete mess...

The key factor of inefficiency here is people natural curiosity.

Some thing like: Somebody has ordered a pizza... let me guess who it will be

or "interesting, who is waiting UPS delivery" and so on...

Open office creates internal social network instead of just work and plenty of time is lost due to constant interruptions. The whole office will look and any argue between any two and make bets)).

Thus I think the best option is separate room allocation based on functions for teams of 2 to 5 employees and not the "market" like this.

Funny, my open office area has 4 people (soon to be 5) who all are on the same team...

Your open office is OK )))

Thanks!

 

It dawned on me when you wrote your reply that the size of the operation makes a big difference in this question. 

It must be dependent on the person, for example some people find annoying even a familiar music or someone making a phone call when  making a quote where every mistake can cost a fortune, or when creating a fire panel config where a small mistake can cause or (worse case) not cause evacuation. Personally myself can work at an industrial site with trucks running behind my back, or configuring panels on top of ladder with a phone in my right hand and the laptop in my left, typing with my pinky.

This office would be no problem for me.

 

The main reason Facebook and other companies choose open space is that makes employees self discipline.

The reality is that if no one sees/hears what you do most people will spend half of the time on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, porn, private phone calls or any other time consuming occupation that is not work.
What companies realized is that if everyone can hear you and everyone can see your screen you won't make super long private phone calls and won't surf to time wasting websites instead of working. This is the number one reason companies choose open office.

There are plenty of solutions with application and content control which will make all illegal actions almost impossible to make technically. Thus this is not the case... 

Each company of such size has policies and compliance management on papers or electronically each employee must get acquainted with. 

And each company has control mechanisms with direct (access denied) or indirect options (I know you were browsing Instagram 4 hours each day last week, you are fired...)

Security policy enforcement software is able to block or log any illegal actions with complete "time spent on" charts for the management. 2 - 3 incidents of firing due to noncompliance and the rest will forget Instagram ))). 

You completely missing the point... They don't try to block people with measurements/rules/software or policies but make people work by certain rules by themselves.
They don't want to spend time on policing the employees. 

Also those "policies" don't stop people using their smartphones, open space does.

It depends on the exact policy... and software

One full time security employee versus random times for the whole conference hall of several hundreds?

And why do you think that well-known coworkers will stop somebody making or posting pictures? Or laughing at mems or stupid pets is way more cool if you can share it with colleagues. 

Ask your friends in the silicon valley, i did and it does.

I'm sure if you ask business owners if it improves their business, they'll say it does.

I'm also sure if you ask employees if it improves the business, they'll say it doesn't.

The environment in the image is far too open for me.  I know people detest cube farms but I would gladly take a cube farm w/a decent sound masking system over that nightmare any day.  It looks like a street bazaar.

Also, I think the trendy open ceiling fad should have died off a while ago.

It looks so peaceful in there,

you could probably hear a bomb drop :)

We have a bit of a hybrid. Our support and inside sales teams are in the open with half-walls for a bit of sanity and to keep things tidy. Mostly it just allows us to route power and ethernet without it looking like a rats nest. The half-wall cubicles don't mask any sound or give much privacy but give you a place to hang pictures of your kids.

For these teams, collaboration is important. Yes, our more senior team members get a lot of walkup questions but that's what they're here for. When discretion is needed, there are always meeting rooms available. Work from home is also an option.

Some other groups have 2-3 folks in a traditional office while some folks have their own office. I really think it depends on your job function whether an open plan makes sense. I think both should be accommodated.

It looks like a Where's Waldo picture in real life.

In my opinion, anyone who argues from the business side doesn't get it. It is an individual employee/job differentiator. Some employees can work well in an open office for some types of jobs, other types of jobs and types of people operate best in a closed, quiet location. Failure to recognize that both are needed would be an employer problem. Sound travels both ways :). On a related topic - A curse on those carrying on loud phone conversations in an open setting. (includes offices, buses, cafes, sidewalks, ...)

I still vote open offices are a bad idea... if you like to eat peanut butter. Seems like half of the millennials are allergic. How are the medics gonna get to you with so much crap in the way? Swing like Tarzan on the cable drops?

Seriously, the more I read peoples' defense of the open office, the more I don't like them. 

We went to this a few years ago.

We did it for two reasons. 1. Fewer offices means easier remodels down the road. A lot less hard walls to deconstruct and than reconstruct. 2. Claimed more collaboration between staff.

From a security standpoint - Active assailant: No place to hide.

The size DOES make a difference. I've had offices and cubicles. After our most recent renovation, I'm back in a cubicle in an area with about a dozen workers.

I have pretty regular confidential discussion/calls so you lose that privacy but there are work-arounds. What I gain, though, is connection to my team. I know who is working on what and the free-flow communication between us is facilitated by the open floor plan. We have a much more real and productive working relationship than I did when I sat in an office.

Your picture looks like a circus, not an office in which to do work!