Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Open Offices are Not Cool

Recently I read the book 'Quiet' by Susan Cain, which deals a lot with introversion, and how extroversion and 'group think' are considered to be better by society. There was an interesting section about the business world and office layouts, which really struck a chord. Research has shown that people (but introverts in particular) are less productive when working in 'open offices'.

This chapter made a lightbulb to off in my head, and I totally agree with her point. In Japan open offices, where everyone is in the same room at long rows of desks, are very common. Even non-Japanese companies, particularly those involved in tech and online services, have increasingly been using this kind of layout. A lot of people seem to think they look cool, but, to be quite honest they aren't at all that they are cracked up to be.

Why, you ask? Well, here goes:

1- All Calls, All the Time

Not surprisingly, since these offices are basically one big room stuffed with people, open offices are noisy. I can hear the calls of the sales team, the dude getting rebuked for an error, people shredding papers or dropping things, phones ringing and nearby conversations. And it is super distracting, especially for someone high strung. When I am 100% focused on creating marketing material, I almost jump out of my skin when someone  rings the interphone!

2- AXE Attacks

Not the sharp kind, the overpoweringly smelly kind. Several times a day someone (*cough* engineers *cough*) will douse themselves with body spray, perfume or scented lotion... and sometimes it can be truly eye watering. 

3- Introvert Hell

There are people in front of you, to your sides, behind you, all over the bloody place. 8 to 10 hours of this a day can be intensely tiring, because it takes so much more concentration to remain focused on your tasks and developing your ideas. My job has some creative aspects to it, so focus is a necessity. A nice little nook would be so appreciated.

4- Working Longer than Thou

I pride myself on the speed and quality of my work. I make sure to get all my tasks for the day done, prep for the following day, then leave. Basically, one can always find more work to do, and this is not a good thing! While my company is pretty good about the whole work/life balance thing, there are always those people who stay late every day. And when you leave sometimes they give self-satisfied little looks of 'you're leaving already?!', since everyone can see and hear you heading out. I ignore it, because I thoroughly enjoy having a life, but I can imagine it could be tough for others.

5- Germs Galore

Yup, without all those nice little rooms and doors to keep things a bit separate, colds get passed around very efficiently. I am by no means germ phobic, but three of my nearest colleagues have gotten the same cold... and I am just waiting for when it shall inflict itself upon my lungs. 

So, what do ya'll think? Any cubicle fans out there?


  1. I don't like open offices! When my company transferred me to Suzhou (where I was in a big open office shared with purchasing, accounting, admin, HR and logistics) I almost went crazy (in Spain I had an office for myself). So many phones ringing at the same time, I felt like killing the purchasing team (they received a lot of calls!! And had annoying tunes on their cellphones!!). In the end I somewhat got used to the noise, but it is very difficult to concentrate on anything when there's 10 people yelling around you.

  2. I hate open offices. Detest abhor and loathe them. We had a great solution at the TV company where I worked in Johannesburg: offices with glass walls. That ensures privacy without that claustrophobic sensation that a beehive of tiny dark offices can give you. Lots of light, a sense of working in a team without having to be Siamese twins with everybody. Perfect.

    1. That is brilliant!
      Especially is part of the glass is a bit opaque, for extra privacy.

  3. Exactly. I reeeeeaaaally hate open offices. It kills my concentration!

    1. Indeed, I know I would be more productive over on a quiet corner... But that would be 'antisocial'...ugh.

  4. This is quite late (I have just found your blog!), but the last time I was in an open office I build my own 'walls' by placing file holders on my left and right. Plus they cant say that I am purposefully isolating myself too cause I just have that many files! XD