back to article Open plan offices flop – you talk less, IM more, if forced to flee a cubicle

Open plan offices don’t deliver their promised benefits of more face-to-face collaboration and instead make us misanthropic recluses and more likely to use electronic communications tools. So says a new article in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, by Harvard academics Ethan S. Bernstein, Stephen Turban. …

  1. getHandle

    What about disturbing others?

    I favour electronic communication in open plan offices to avoid disturbing others.

    I would happily shoot the sociopaths who think they have the right to share their conversations, thoughts and phone calls with the whole damn floor...

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      We had this in the late 80s and early 90s. Big open plan offices. If you talked to your neighbours, the noise level increased so quickly, you were often shouting. Even telephone calls were awkward, because you had somebody talking quietly in the receiver in one ear and the whole office shouting in the other ear.

      After a while, nobody bothered talking to anyone else and tried to have hushed telephone conversations.

      The other thing is, everybody can hear what you are saying, so you are more reticent to talk at all, in case you make a fool of yourself. If you have misunderstood something and the other person in the conversation points it out, it is a little embarassing, but if the whole office is listening to you making a fool of yourself, that is another matter. Private discussions are also difficult to have.

      We used to get up and go into the stairwell to have conversations, or go out and get a coffee.

    2. Vanir

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      Oh dear! I'm going to be shot.

      I've mostly worked in open plan offices. There's been a low level hub-hub of converstion at most times But people are generally considerate. At times, even in big offices, - full of coders be they managers or not - there have been moments of complete silence and noisy banter. I like the noisy banter!

      When I'm in the zone I'm just oblivious. I've never been annoyed at being interrupted though. Well, maybe just once or twice but then I was in a bad mood for starters. Usually having to deal with really bad code.

      I'm just human. I like to talk to my fellow human beings F2F. It's how you get to really know them.

      I see a lot of job specs that require team 'players' and that can work alone too. Go figure.

      I hate using phones, conferencing, email.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        I hat phones and conferencing as well. And I don't mind working in teams, I currently sit in an office with 2 other people and my boss next door, with the door open. Most of the time, it is great, the noise level is acceptable.

        But in the large open-plan offices, where dozens of teams have to work together, the noise level is often too high to concentrate.

        I also hate it when other people can look over my shoulder. It is irrelevant, whether I am just doing my work or dossing off and reading the Reg, I feel somehow violated, that people can just look over my shoulder, without me knowing about it or allowing it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          Dear Sir,

          I find your idea of a hat phone for both personal calls and teleconferencing intriguing. Is there any chance you have a prototype?

          Regards

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        When I'm in the zone I'm just oblivious. I've never been annoyed at being interrupted though. Well, maybe just once or twice but then I was in a bad mood for starters. Usually having to deal with really bad code.

        Please share the secret and tell me how you get in the zone in the first place in an open plan office with Lync, Outlook, and Teams constantly popping up notifications about inconsequential shit. Or is it just me who has this problem?

        1. Vanir

          Re: Please share the secret

          AC:

          <Please share the secret and tell me how you get in the zone in the first place in an open plan office with Lync, Outlook, and Teams constantly popping up notifications about inconsequential shit. Or is it just me who has this problem?>

          Can't help you there. I just start writing / reading the code and I can quickly get lost in it.

          Been doing this coding stint >20yrs. Never had a problem. The only problems I've had is with something like, for example, an AC ceiling unit wafting cold air on my neck, bright lights etc.

          Before my coding career I was an electrician working in noisy and sometimes unpleasant, dangerous environments with perhaps what you would call boisterous tradesmen; veteran tradesmen most of them. They still did high quality work. It's just how you are 'brought' up and what you think is 'normal'.

          I don't mind interruptions but that does not mean I like them. Sometime's I have welcomed interuptions. Hasn't everybody?

          Before I interupt someone I do look at them to evaluate them and their situation against the reason why I want or need to do so.

          All these 'scientific' studies just seem to blow with the wind. Compaines are not going to change their office layouts on one study.

      3. rmullen0

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        If you like being interrupted, it sounds like you don't care about doing a good job or being productive. Constantly being interrupted is not conducive to being productive. I am a lot more productive when I work from home for the simple fact that I can concentrate on what I am doing without being constantly interrupted. When I am in the office, my productivity plummets.

        1. Alan_Peery

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          People are not all the same. Some thrive on interaction, others can't handle interruption. Don't assume that someone doesn't car or isn't productive because interruptions just because interruptions bother you.

      4. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        Some people can do very well in such environments. Clearly, you're one of them. Most people, however, don't do well in such environments.

      5. PeteA
        Trollface

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        I'm just human. I like to talk to my fellow human beings F2F. It's how you get to really know them.

        What you doing on the El Reg fora then?

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Vanir Re: What about disturbing others?

        But people are generally considerate

        I just laughed so hard, I think a bit of wee came out

      7. fidodogbreath Silver badge

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        I'm just human. I like to talk to my fellow human beings F2F. It's how you get to really know them.

        Your sunny, magnanimous view of other people is in the minority in the Reg forums...

    3. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      disturbing others

      Same here, and in fact, I had to push management and HR real hard to be able to work from home to avoid this.

      The problem I specifically faced was that due to policy, our initially large office was being reduced in size by selling off bits to other companies and "shrinking" it by installing new partition walls. So eventually we ended up with an aisle of developers, next to an aisle of sales people next to an aisle of general plebs. Sales were constantly babbling on the phone trying to sell stuff, while the plebs would saunter in and start eating their bowls of breakfast cereal making it sound like a greasy spoon caf.

      Then, some bright spark decided it would be a great idea to use meeting rooms for management, so we then had to have group Hangout Meetings in the same open-plan area, sometimes with senior management or external clients. Nightmare! "Is that a dog in the room with you?" "Are you in a cafe?" Me: "it's the builders next door loading up a skip..."

      And as for trying to write software when the Office Dweeb is starting one of his "Say, did I ever tell about that time when....." monologues? fuggedit

      Open-plan office advocates should be SHOT (in the office)

      1. paulf Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        @Flywheel, "start eating their bowls of breakfast cereal making it sound like a greasy spoon caf."

        Now that is nasty - people who eat in open plan offices when others are trying to work. A personal bug bear because the guy opposite me likes eating cereal. Some people do eat at their desks and either do so during lunchtime or quietly at other times. He eats slurps cereal most days with his mouth open so the whole damned floor can hear it - and seems completely oblivious to this being in any way wrong. Oblivious or a sociopath so should be promoted to manglement any time soon.

        Oh and people who have serious problems with personal hygiene such that they stink out the whole office (you'll not be surprised that the same guy appears in that one too!)

        Icon - Why bother with passive aggressive when actual aggressive is much more effective!

        1. adam 40

          Cereal - is that all?

          I have to put up with crisps, slurping hot coffee, and slurping soup.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      > I would happily shoot the sociopaths who think they have the right to share their conversations, thoughts and phone calls with the whole damn floor...

      Do you take contracts? There's a 'foghorn leghorn' in my office that needs dealing with. I'd send you the address but you can probably hear him anyway...

      1. Amos1

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        Just a "foghorn leghorn"? Another lovely aspect of the open office plan is the male or female who slathers on so much cologne or perfume that I can't breathe even though they are several rows away. My manager is one of those.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          About half of the places I've worked have had a firm "no perfume/cologne" workplace rule. I wish it were all of them.

          1. adam 40

            Re: What about disturbing others?

            About half of the places I've worked have had a firm "no perfume/cologne" workplace rule. I wish it were all of them.

            Even the ones in Cologne?

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          "the male or female who slathers on so much cologne or perfume that I can't breathe"

          At least they're not **SMOKING**. OK not an issue HERE since the 80's [but 'vaping' would be ok]. I understand that in SOME places "they" still "allow" in-office smoking. I'd rage quit, LOUDLY and maybe even VIOLENTLY, the first time someone lit a @#$% cancer stick anywhere upwind of me. The exhaust *ALWAYS* gives me a *BAD* headache.

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Re: What about disturbing others?

            I would be curious to know where they allow amoking in a publc place - to quote from gov.uk

            Businesses can be fined up to £2,500 if they don’t stop people smoking in the workplace or up to £1,000 if they don’t display ‘no smoking’ signs.

          2. Steve Kellett

            Re: What about disturbing others?

            I had a stunned reaction from some 20 something colleagues yesterday when I described a chain smoking colleague from the early 80's who would sometimes during times of extreme stress have three cigs on the go simultaneously. "Yes. People did used to be allowed to smoke in the workplace".

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What about disturbing others?

            And not just smokING, but being a smokER, the stench of tabacco that wafts arounds them makes me retch.

      2. Steve K Silver badge
        Megaphone

        Re: What about disturbing others?

        My brother-in-law had one of those in his office years ago - always listened to his Voicemail on speaker and irritating everyone.

        So he left an anonymous voice message along the lines of "Hello - You're an annoying, inconsiderately loud bastard who won't shut up".

        When said annoying person played that one, the message got home and the problem was (amusingly) solved!

        1. FIA

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          [...]So he left an anonymous voice message along the lines of "Hello - You're an annoying, inconsiderately loud bastard who won't shut up".

          What a cunt.

          When said annoying person played that one, the message got home and the problem was (amusingly) solved!

          Yay! Glad the problem was solved, I love group shaming people too, makes me feel like one of the herd. I hope they pointed and laughed just to make extra sure.

        2. ZPO

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          Voicemails of:

          Hello, this is the doctors office. The health department requires you to come in to discuss the results of your STD tests...

          This is Detective Smith at the police department. We need to schedule an appointment to interview you about these child abuse allegations...

          Should fix the problem with listening to Voicemails on speaker rather quickly.

        3. rnturn

          Re: What about disturbing others?

          Years ago I worked down the hall from a manager who did everything via speakerphone. Even when dialing he had the speaker on. The worst of it was that the guy had no hand/eye coordination and he'd need to dial number at least 2-3 times before he got it right. Everyone in a radius of a half dozen offices (yes. we had offices but offices with at least three engineers crammed into them) had to listen to John's attempts to dial a phone number. All. Day. Long.

          1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

            Re: What about disturbing others?

            Years ago I worked down the hall from a manager who did everything via speakerphone. Even when dialing he had the speaker on.

            There was the office I worked at where my door was almost directly opposite a conference room at the intersection of two hallways. They would be using their speakerphone for various meetings (logically) with the doors to both hallways open. The problem was the one manager who would call into some of the meetings on *HIS* speakerphone. His office was opposite the other door to the conference room, on the other hallway. And he would have *his* door open when he called. Being a manager, it wasn't like he had any *real* work to do.

            At least if I had occasion where I couldn't walk *my* lazy ass across the hall to a meeting (not on the same team as the dimwitted manager, thankfully) because I was in the middle of some system work that I needed to babysit, I'd at least have the courtesy to use a handset, or at least close my door.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      Interesting. They have no choice but to speak to others, when a phone call will not do. And you can't put yourself in their place or feel any empathy. Hmm.

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: What about disturbing others?

      "I would happily shoot the sociopaths who think they have the right to share their conversations, thoughts and phone calls with the whole damn floor..."

      Or the OTHER sociopaths that have to INCESSANTLY complain about everyone around them, particularly those who need to "interact" like the office plan implies...

      yeah "fish bowl" office design is JUST! PLAIN! STUPID! (and I guess that pretty much says it all). Whoever thought that up needs to be re-educated with a cat-5-o-nine-tails *AND* a clue-bat. And maybe 'accidentally' 'fall' out of a 2nd floor window that swings open easily when leaned on...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is no communication / less verbal communication because people complain about the noise if people are talking. So you get told to go to the small meeting rooms. Which means you don't have the conversation you would have because its too much hassle to go to the meeting room with what you need to show the person, so it doesn't get done.

    1. whoseyourdaddy

      "Which means you don't have the conversation you would have because its too much hassle to go to the meeting room with what you need to show the person, so it doesn't get done."

      Do you have to be in a conference room? You have no hallways away from cubicles to have a long-ass discussion about stuff most people don't have the necessary background info to process?

      I worked for a large company in San Diego who used to put more than 90% of their employees in private offices. It didn't help. People just talked louder.

      Arguably, you're impromptu discussions that take longer than 3 minutes or so should be happening on the Wiki where business-critical information and ideas will be harder to lose (unless one of you opted to type up meeting notes after the discussion.)

      Still, you're just being lazy and oblivious because *everyone* will use that excuse to talk about the World Cup or the NBA Finals in the middle of a cubicle farm.

  3. thondwe

    Hard to Hear

    Hard to hear any chatter with Led Zep on the head phones...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Hard to Hear

      That's just triggering a communication breakdown.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hard to Hear

        It's enough to bring on the Black Dog of depression

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Hard to Hear

      Sounds like a Stairway to Heaven

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Hard to Hear

        But When the Levee Breaks, you might end up with The Battle of Evermore. People hate it when you ignore them like that.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hard to Hear

      Led Zep?

      Our office is so noisy I have to listen to The Gerogerigegege.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Hard to Hear

        You should get better headphones - mine go all the way to 11.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hard to Hear

          You should get better headphones - mine go all the way to 11.

          Yes, so do mine. They also cost three hundred fucking quid. My money, that I should have been able to spend on something else, instead of having to use it to make the workplace marginally less unfit for purpose.

          If of course these idiots happen to leave their phones on their desks, then a £3.99 claw hammer from Wickes does the job much better.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Hard to Hear

          I can't do headphones in an open office space. When I'm so exposed, then not being able to hear what's happening around me means that I am "on alert" the entire time, constantly looking over my shoulder because I think someone might be behind me.

          For me, open office space is a massive productivity killer and dramatically ramps up the stress level.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Hard to Hear

            "not being able to hear what's happening around me means that I am "on alert" the entire time"

            yes, having your back to an open hole, doorway, window, etc. is naturally "un-nerving". It's bad feng sheui too, from what I hear.

            Good office environment means productivity. So, face the hole, or install one of those wide angle rearview clip-on mirrors like you might put in your car to see the kids in the back seat [a friend of mine actually did that, taped to the top of his monitor, and it was brilliant].

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: Hard to Hear

              "So, face the hole, or install one of those wide angle rearview clip-on mirrors"

              "Facing the hole" was impossible at the last job I had that inflicted this nonsense on employees. Your desk faced where it faced, it was impossible to reorient it. I did use rear-view mirrors, but that didn't change the "always on alert" thing at all, it only meant that I wasn't always physically turning around anymore.

  4. PerlyKing
    Meh

    Is it just me?

    I thought that companies moved to open-plan so that they could cram more "human resources" into the same space, saving money. Or is that just me?

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me?

      I thought open plan died a death towards the end of the 90s...

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me?

        I thought it died a deserving death with the invention of the cubicle. Fun fact: open office plans were extremely common before the cubicle was invented, and its invention was, at the time, hailed as welcome humanitarian development. It also increased productivity by quite a bit.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it just me?

      Open plan facilitates "hot desking" - often arranged in rows like an old slave galley.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Those cubicle things

        Those weird cubicle things you see in American films, are they actually a real thing or are they just made up in Hollywood?

        If they are real, how does anybody tolerate working in them?

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Those cubicle things

          If they are real, how does anybody tolerate working in them?

          Occasionally people just go postal.

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Those cubicle things

          Having worked in a few designs of cubicle and open offices, I prefer the (semi-open) cubicles to the true open office. Open offices are noisy and busy. I'm a very visually oriented person, so lots of foot traffic is very distracting, as is lots of background chatter. The high partitions help shield the visibility of general office traffic and the padded panels help absorb noise, meaning hushed conversation doesn't get distractingly reverberated around the room.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Those cubicle things

            But I'm working in an open plan office now, with 15 desks. It's not noisy at all.

            1. fedoraman

              Re: Those cubicle things

              That's cos everyone else is on this thread!

            2. Rich 11 Silver badge

              Re: Those cubicle things

              But I'm working in an open plan office now, with 15 desks. It's not noisy at all.

              That's because 13 people are off ill with the flu and the remaining two are introverts who never make eye contact.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: Those cubicle things

                That's because 13 people are off ill with the flu and the remaining two are introverts who never make eye contact.

                Part right. 6 are working from home and the others are working. Banter regular but not excessive. Remember this is generally not a loudmouth country.

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Those cubicle things

          "how does anybody tolerate working in them?"

          A properly designed cube is sound isolated [soft walls do this] and big enough for whatever you need, and isolated enough that it might as well be a private office. Hang posters instead of having a window, and you'll be fine. you can pin up 'whatever' onto the cloth walls. And again, PROPERLY designed cubes are nearly as good as a private office. And they cost a lot less to the company than private offices.

          Think of what the 'cube farm' that Neo worked in looked like, in the first Matrix movie. That's close. Again, when done properly, it's like having a private office.

          (of course I'd rather have a private office with a door, or better still, HOME office so I don't need to commute).

          1. RubberJohnny

            Re: Those cubicle things

            Fuck that. If I was expected to work in one of those little boxes from shit 1980s American films then I would walk. Just inhuman.

            I'd rather have faces to work with and communicate with.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Those cubicle things

              Dilbert Cubicle

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Those cubicle things

            The cubicle might have the capacity to be nice, but in practice it just isn't. The last place I worked with a cubicle system, my cubicle consisted of only two walls. One ended at head height. The other was a bit higher for the cabling. There was nothing at all behind me or to one side, so I did get a bit of sound that I didn't need. Of course, my cubicle was in a corner, but the ones in the middle were not better. They were very open, with low walls all around and positioned two people facing each other for no reason whatsoever. One side was wide open, with no illusion of a doorway. The cubicles were also big enough for the empty space behind you to be a bit annoying. I got the impression from the managers telling me directly that this structure was done specifically with the intention of being able to place a lot of people in that one section. Contrary to their wont, they managed that aspect pretty well.

        4. fedoraman

          Re: Those cubicle things

          Have you seen "The Incredibles"? Excellent example of what happens when someone snaps. And still The Best Superhero Movie Ever(TM).

      2. EricM

        Re: Hot desking

        > Open plan facilitates "hot desking"

        Yeah, which also leads to more electronic comms, as you can't find people anymore for doing this F2F thing without setting up a meeting in a designated meeting space first ...

      3. Steve K Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me?

        Like the Crimson Permanent Insurance office in "Meaning of Life?"

      4. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me?

        Ugh, hot-desking is just plain evil.

        I'd be able to (barely) tolerate an open office plan if the job were exceptional in ever other way (but mostly by being interesting), but I literally can't imagine a job being so awesome that it would be worth putting up with hot-desking for.

    3. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me?

      The whole idea is driven by the thought that if you cram more people into a given space, you save money on the space that they occupy. Every single other supposed "advantage" of this set-up is actually just hand-waving to make up for several major downsides.

      Firstly, most people absolutely loath big open-plan offices, for many reasons. Some will leave jobs to avoid them.

      Secondly, the disturbance factor reduces the work output, dropping productivity by about a third.

      Thirdly, sick leave taken increases markedly the more people share a space. Research on cold virus transmission (done by the University of Maryland) shows that most cold virus transmission is aerosol based, and thus it is proximity to infectious people that counts.

      Fourthly, communication inside teams decreases markedly, as this research shows.

      The bottom line is that the money saved by cramming people into a space like battery hens is lost several times over by the many factors that lose productivity, however these facts are lost on the PHBs who normally decide on implementing these shite-hole workplaces.

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me?

        "these facts are lost on the PHBs who normally decide on implementing these shite-hole workplaces"

        You never see the PHBs cramming themselves into these open plan offices.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Is it just me?

          "You never see the PHBs cramming themselves into these open plan offices."

          In general, no. But I do recall one instance where this happened so that senior management toys out of pram shouting matches were a spectator sport for everyone else.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is it just me?

          "You never see the PHBs cramming themselves into these open plan offices."

          The upper levels, those connected to or on the board, definitely not. However most places I've worked the entire middle managment right up to global head have been on the floor with we plebs. Lucky thing is they all spend 7/8 hours a day in meetings with each other discussing nonsense and so the rest of us can get some time to implement their latest half-arsed plans!

      2. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

        Re: Is it just me?

        > The whole idea is driven by the thought that if you cram more people into a given space,

        Don't forget the power politics in play, not just because those higher up in open-plan and cubicle environments tend to have offices, and can both insulate themselves from open plan reality and enjoy the power pleasure of inflicting it on others.

        I worked at a company in the early 90s in an open-plan office. I left after a few years, and returned as a consultant a few years after that. After a meeting at my desk - they had those teardrop-shaped desk add-ons for small meetings - someone went to my boss to complain about my desk. He said as a consultant he was not sure I was entitled to the desk I had, which to my eye was identical to all the others. It turned out that for those above a certain level, the desks had a rounded edge, while minions had square-edged desks. I had known the place for 8 years and never noticed this trivial bit of status semiotics.

    4. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me?

      "companies moved to open-plan so that they could cram more "human resources" into the same space, saving money"

      Most certainly to save money. Not necessarily to save space (as you could fit 3-4 people working together in a team into an office with the same or similar space-per-head) but because with simple desks and partitions you can reconfigure the space very easily (especially with rented office space that changes tenants and therefore layouts relatively frequently).

    5. Karl Vegar

      Re: Is it just me?

      Yeah, you're right.

      And they're halfway right...

      (They get more human resources pr square meter/feet.)

      I'm not so sure the loss in productivity will not balance out the rent saved. But this will be depending on factors like salary, invoicing practice (do you charge by the hour or by the project/service?),the rent, cost of turnover...

  5. Herring` Silver badge

    It's interesting how study after study shows that open plan is a terrible idea but it remains pretty much ubiquitous. Just to make it more fun these days, when you're trying to concentrate the team next to you decides to hold their stand-up.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      I must be lucky.

      I only worked for a short while in the mid 90s in a real open-plan office. I've worked mainly in offices with 3 - 4 other people, tops - and that can get noisy enough, when they are telephoning at the same time.

      I haven't seen a company in the last 18 years that has really had an "open-plan" office (dozens or hundreds of desks in an open space).

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        "I haven't seen a company in the last 18 years that has really had an "open-plan" office (dozens or hundreds of desks in an open space)"

        I worked at such a place a few years back. It was a major IC manufacturer. That open plan was the primary reason that I left.

    2. NinjasFTW

      oh god this.

      My open office now has white boards tacked to the end of every row of desk, infringing onto the walkways.

      Every morning, all the teams have their daily standup and completely block the walkways.

      The general chatter is so loud I need to wear headphones to focus on a task and there is always one person within 20 meters who likes to loudly talk about what they did on the weekend/had for dinner/what their cat threw up etc.

      I don't think anyone actually believes in the whole increased collaboration thing. It is just a thinly veiled excuse to cram people into the smallest space possible.

      If they actually cared about collaboration, everyone would have an office/decent cubical but there would be a large amount of meeting rooms or gather areas where people could work together when needed and actually get work done in peace when they need focus time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        sounds like where I work (at least the new section)

  6. AlgernonFlowers4

    Lost In Space

    Divide the office into quiet zones and noisy zones. Allow people to sit in their zone of choice and let battle commence.

    1. AlgernonFlowers4

      Re: Lost In Space

      Even virgin trains let you pick if you want to sit in a quiet carriage or not, so why the downvotes against the right to choose?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lost In Space

        Even virgin trains let you pick if you want to sit in a quiet carriage or not, so why the downvotes against the right to choose?

        What choice, exactly? Ever tried sitting in a 'quiet carriage'? Always some c**t already in there, squealing into a phone like a stabbed piglet. The policy is not even nearly enforced. Murder by defenestration from a moving train is still not legal afaik.

        1. A K Stiles
          Facepalm

          Re: Lost In Space

          I was on a train for about 4 hours last week, deliberately sitting in the 'quiet' carriage. The two old dears in the row behind me conversed solidly for the whole 4 hours about inane rubbish and whether cousin Timothy would be spending the next few days at the golf club - it didn't even sound like they paused for breath the whole time!

          Everyone else in the carriage made not one jot of noise, except briefly when England scored, and once again when Colombia equalised.

          1. Teiwaz Silver badge

            Re: Lost In Space

            Timothy would be spending the next few days at the golf club - it didn't even sound like they paused for breath the whole time!

            You want to pick up an imaginary phone and have a long one side Python Pepperpot type conversation 'lotos she'll be much better now she's 'ad 'er leg off' stuff.

            See if you can shut them up so they can lisiten in (old dears like to overhear juicy gossip more than passing it on).

            Depends whether you can talk for fours hours straight without pausing to rawing breath.....phew

  7. Multivac

    I have literally sat under my desk on a telephone call because the team that sit next to me were making so much noise, think they were getting excited over the previous nights Great British Bake off or something. One of my employers office buildings is also 100% hot desk with unbookable meeting rooms, the marketing types love it but it's really depressing watching all the technical people walking round with arm fulls of books looking for a quiet corner every morning. I tend to work from home 2 days a week now just so I can get a solid 2*8 hours of work in every week.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    "Interaction" != work

    Yes, open plan offices make it less likely that people will chat to each other. Not only are they doing so in plain sight of everyone else - including the boss, but they are much more likely to be politely asked to STFU by all the surrounding people trying to get on with their work.

    But the research sabotages its entire credibility with conclusion:

    > The second is that we just don’t know all that much about how humans interact,

    So it turns out the researchers were measuring something they didn't understand. It therefore follows that nothing they "discovered" has any real significance, since it was based on a badly designed experiment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Interaction" != work

      Doubly so with in-house Faecebook type applications being introduced. In my experience, whilst these may reduce email traffic, this is far, far more than offset by the torrent of sycophantic twaddle and meaningless chatter ( looking at you, HR and "professional development" types).

      So far our corporate structure has been invaded by fitst Tibbr and its social networking and now Yammer. I have yet to see a single messaage on either platform, that is of any actual use.

      1. Flywheel Silver badge

        Re: "Interaction" != work

        Tibbr, Yammer - hmmm.. we went down that route.. I'm guessing you'll have Google Plus next.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "Interaction" != work

      "it was based on a badly designed experiment"

      I'm sure the eds and referees of Proc. Roy. Soc. B will, in future, defer to your superior wisdom in matters of experimental design.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: "Interaction" != work

        We did the experiment with Yammer at my last job 6 years ago, and it fizzled out. I haven't seen it since and I thought it had died.

  9. davenewman

    Monasteries had it right centuries ago

    Small rooms to work in undistracted, cloisters to meet people serendipitously, and big rooms to gather together.

    1. LDS Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

      Yeah, but it was intended to be penitence... albeit not always lived so...

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

        "Yeah, but it was intended to be penitence"

        There are plenty of things to bash the Catholic churches for, but at least get this one right. The scholars in the monasteries basically saved civilisation during the Dark Ages, when Europe was like Somalia today but with Scandinavians. They wrote stuff down, they preserved culture, they developed efficient agriculture. They translated the new science from Arabic into Latin. They preserved and improved metalworking. In fact, they were early universities and modern universities still follow the same kind of model.

        Penitence was for the weird sects that went around flogging themselves. They were the enemies of civilisation. Fortunately for all of us, between the sects, the warlords and the monks, it was the monks who actually won.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

          "Translated from Arabic" doesn't sound like Christianity was all that responsible for carrying knowledge through the Dark Ages. Rather, it was responsible for there BEING Dark Ages.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

            "Rather, it was responsible for there BEING Dark Ages."

            wtactualf?

            I think you need to learn some history, and not rely on Gibbon (where a lot of what you hear is the grinding of axes).

            Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. Basically the gods got renamed and things carried on much as before. We are not talking here about Biblical literalist protestants opposing science. We are talking intelligent guys like Augustine.

            The Dark Ages were caused by successive waves of Teutonic invasion of the Empire along with raiding by Scandinavians. They were in no way Christians. They moved because the Huns came out of the East, and Rome was collateral damage in 410 and 455.

            Attempts to blame Christianity for making Rome less warlike really fail because the Empire was becoming less warlike more or less throughout AD as it turned into a big bureaucracy with a large population. Empires rise and fall due to internal and external reasons, rarely only one.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              "The Dark Ages were caused by successive waves of Teutonic invasion"

              Wrong. Ask Hypatia...

              Unluckily, the Edict of Thessalonica started the attempt of the christian bishops to attain political power using religion violently against opponents - look at what Cyril made in Alexandria, and it wasn't because of the Huns (although his Parabalani were not much kinder)

              And some "barbarians" - look at Theodoric or Frederick II - were less barbaric than many popes, which obviously worked hard to crush them because they could take the power away from them.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

          They preserved moslty the "civilization" that matched their religious ideology. What didn't match, was also destroyed and lost (read, for example "The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World" by Catherine Nixey) - and had to be rediscovered later.

          A lot of art and knowledge has been destroyed by Christians too - every religion tries to wipe out what could be dangerous for its total obfuscation of people's mind to achieve power. Science, is usually the first victim (erotic books have more chances to survive - we know very well why, the Abbot may have liked some... to criticize them, of course)

          It wasn't Muslims to start the destroying the Hellenistic knowledge - it was the the christian "talibans" of the era- many of them "monks", Muslims came some centuries later, and for a while ("The Golden Age"), they preserved it, they became also more advanced than Europe - and they have saved a lot of books, which were already "lost" by the "good civilized monks", and yes, Greek and Latin books had to be re-translated from Arabic (especially in Toledo).

          Nevertheless, monasteries were imported from the Orient, with a far darker vision of Christianity, and, frankly, are a bad deviation from Christ teaching, he never say to hide behind walls, and exclude, but exactly the opposite. Penitence is not only flogging, you have a very old dark vision....

          Sure, they became so large land owners, and owners of serfs ("poverty? Ah-ah!"), thus became so greedy, they had to improve their fields yield. But nobody really knows who introduced more modern form of rotations, and improved tools.

          Metalworking, sorry, developed outside monasteries because it was essential for war. And still, Damascus steel was regarded the best of those times (and still, its manufacturing is now lost).

          Unless you meant jewellery, because, yes, what's a Gospel value if not drowned into gold and precious stones? Yet "barbarians" jewel makers were already of very high quality and skills....

          Most monks were not enlightened scholars.... especially in the early middle ages, and it was their religion to turn the clock centuries back - not forward.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

            Sorry, I'm still not clear. Did the Romans work in open plan offices? And what effect did the spread of Christianity have on hot-desking practices?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

              Did the Romans work in open plan offices? And what effect did the spread of Christianity have on hot-desking practices?

              I think that depends on the order in question. According to Wikipedia "In the earliest Benedictine monasteries, the writing room was actually a corridor open to the central quadrangle of the cloister. The space could accommodate about twelve monks, who were protected from the elements only by the wall behind them and the vaulting above.". Sounds open-plan to me, although other orders used individual cells.

        3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

          OK, but apart from saving us from the dark ages, writing stuff down, preserving culture, developing efficient agriculture, translating science, improving metalworking and acting as universities....what have the monks ever done for us?

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

            what have the monks ever done for us?

            Brewed beer?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Monasteries had it right centuries ago

        Evern Christ told people to stop crowding him when he was trying to cure the sick.

  10. LDS Silver badge

    Did they check people who needed to interact...

    ... were not placed at the opposite sides of the office?

    I've been used to work in relatively small open offices, dedicated to teams. Face-to-face collaboration is the norm - especially since there are no Slack, WhatsApp or whatever in use. Mail is for things that need to be tracked or communicated outside the office. Still the office is mostly quiet as long as people have their tasks to complete.

    The good thing is the office is lit by natural light and windows show the nice green surroundings.

    I now have a single glass office in a corner, but still get up as much as I can to talk face to face whenever needed.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My wife works at pwc. Not only do they have open plan and hot desking but they've also got rid of desk phones. So now you get people wandering around shouting into their phones because they can't get a signal.

    I work from home. I enjoy being able to pick my nose in peace.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I work from home."

      Several houses in our small street are multi-occupancy rentals - each with a large-ish number of unrelated people in them. If my windows are open - or I am working at the garden table - there is the noise of some of those neighbours pacing up and down the street using their mobile phones. Usually accompanied by a miasma of cigarette smoke - whose discarded butts then litter the pavement and gardens.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So now you get people wandering around shouting into their phones because they can't get a signal.

      Here, you get people wandering around shouting into their phones because they're just selfish, inconsiderate c***s.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many years ago each small group of people with a similar function had an office. The desks backed onto the walls/windows - so you could communicate face-to-face easily. One wall had a whiteboard. If someone wandered in with a query - then they could either talk quietly with one person*** - or engage the whole group.

    The move to cubicles made it more difficult - creating physical barriers which did nothing to deaden sound. Open plan produced almost impossible working conditions for us - especially when "hot desking" was also used..

    ***One user would often come into our support office to talk to me about his programs' problems. He would settle himself comfortably on the front edge of the desk of the colleague opposite me - which really annoyed her. One day he looked down ready to sit - and saw a row of drawing pins now taped to the top of the desk edge - pointed side up.

    1. IanRS

      Did he get the point?

  13. Gordon Pryra

    Open Plan is not about communication

    Its about STOPPING your staff from non-work based communication.

    If everyone can see you and hear you, people tend NOT to talk to people unless its about work matters.

    Many people wont get up to talk to someone fearing their managers eyes on them and they need to prove their value to the company.

    Sadly, IM, email etc is not the best way to talk to someone about anything work related, even pure technical conversations are best handled face to face.

    But hey, at least you can more easily micromanage the lives of your wage slaves, and when they start to hate coming into work with a passion, they can always leave, after all there are millions of people who can take their places.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Open Plan is not about communication

      If everyone can see you and hear you, people tend NOT to talk to people unless its about work matters.

      Two-thirds of the chatter I've overheard this morning from the 30 or so people at my end of the open plan hellhole I work in has been about the footie or what they did over the weekend.

      1. Herring` Silver badge

        Re: Open Plan is not about communication

        The guy who sits opposite me seems to manage to spend all day having a conversation with himself. Everyone else has headphones in.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Open Plan is not about communication

        Two-thirds of the chatter I've overheard this morning from the 30 or so people at my end of the open plan hellhole I work in has been about the footie or what they did over the weekend.

        We have a system. If it's related to work it gets discussed in a whisper (establishing people are capable of it). If it involves wedding plans, love island, diets, how that was "literally the best night ever, I'm not even lying", or anything illustrating just how brilliant the speaker is, it is conducted at a volume level that penetrates ear defenders.

    2. Faceless Man

      Re: Open Plan is not about communication

      Or to put it more accurately, it's about the dehumanisation of the individuals in the workforce by removing any indications of individuality they might previously have displayed.

      We're in the middle of moving to hot desking, after some years of cubicles. (Sadly I've been here long enough to remember when we went from sort of open-plan to sort-of cubicles but still quite open plan, to a new building with better cubicles, and now to completely lacking in personal space. The stated objective is productivity gains by reducing our overhead (ie office rent), making the working arrangements more "flexible" (ie making it imperative that sufficient numbers work from home that our new, reduced space can accommodate everyone else - all the while stressing that no-one is being forced to work from home), and generally removing "distractions" (ie any personal effects you might have, including awards and certificates recognising your contribution to the organisation - not to mention pictures of loved ones, reference materials, tea cups, etc).

      And people wonder why I'm not happy to work here.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smaller and smaller space

    Used to have own desk, own PC, network points, multiple monitors of different ratios and sizes and sat near my colleagues but not too near. We had desk shelves for manuals and lockable draws. The shelves acted as partitions.

    Now we move to a section of desk, OK multiple monitors but they are all the same. The phone needs to be logged into, shelves are somewhere else so manuals aren't to hand and you can't leave them on the desk - it's not yours, someone else could sit there next day. Much closer together and since it's more a hot desk environment you may not always be close to your team.

  15. Teiwaz Silver badge

    unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

    The second is that we just don’t know all that much about how humans interact

    Is that the collective 'we' of humanity or the ditto scientists who carried out this waste of time.

    Open plan desks sounded like a great idea when my first job decided to go open from the higgldy-piggle cubicles in the mid-nineties - halfway into the first day we all knew it was a horrible mistake.

    Same with those motivational posters - sounded like a great idea during the planning stage, when all you had to look at was yellowy walls - as soon as they are up it's like being confronted with the worst sort of happy patrol dystopia.

    Back to the trees and or oceans lads, we're going to give this evolution thing another bash in a couple of hundred centuries.

    1. JimC Silver badge

      Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

      Collective We.

      Haven't you noticed that the whole area of workplace design is riddled with the kind of experts Michael Gove claimed people are fed up with - 'experts' who are spouting off personal opinions and biases as if they were universal truths...

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

        Mr Bean Michael Gove (damn, strikethroughs should be the other way round) - 'people are fed up with experts' - is that his expert opinion on the matter then? The thought that some think he should be next prime minister is truly scary.

        I think it's idiots who think they have expert opinion but don't claim to be experts are the ones people are fed up with - the most recent government dictates on alcohol consumption for example smell more like the waffle of 1920's american temperance league.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

      "Is that the collective 'we' of humanity or the ditto scientists who carried out this waste of time."

      Complain to HR, manglement or whoever about what almost every office dweller knows and you'll be told you're wrong. They'll tell you that "studies show" you're wrong.

      The "studies" are almost certainly going to be unreferreed reports by consultants who'll charge to come out and re-plan your workspace into an open office or office furniture manufacturers who'll sell you the hardware to do that. Having something with the intellectual weight of Proc. Roy. Soc. B behind it should strengthen your arm - unless, of course you're dealing with PHBs who don't know the reputation that journal bears.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

      "Same with those motivational posters [...]"

      I used to have a large collection of small posters which were cycled over my desk as appropriate.

      A top management team came round one day - and stood there looking at

      "Lack of Planning on Your Part Does Not Constitute an Emergency on My Part".

      More usually it was

      "'The Impossible We Do Immediately, Miracles Take A Bit Longer"

    4. rnturn

      Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

      "Same with those motivational posters - sounded like a great idea during the planning stage, when all you had to look at was yellowy walls - as soon as they are up it's like being confronted with the worst sort of happy patrol dystopia."

      Ah, yes... the motivational posters. My favorite: "It's dumb to be too smart." I have no idea what behavior management was trying to instill in the employees when they hung up that one. For several of us, though, it was a reminder as to where the door was.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

        "For several of us, though, it was a reminder as to where the door was."

        Possibly the Peter Principle - said that the only people fired were the very incompetent - and the very competent.

        On assignment to an overseas subsidiary - I quickly cleaned up their festering system problems which the local staff were unable to solve. This was not well received in their office as it made the local staff look incompetent - which basically they were by UK standards. The local education system placed great emphasis on knowing the approved answer to fixed questions - and exam results were spectacularly good. It was not good mind training for handling IT system problems.

        My ex-pat predecessor had worked the same magic - but had made it look very difficult. So a problem took him a week - one day fixing - the other four days he spent on the beach.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: unqualified, stupid or one of those zen starting points?

        Best "motivational" posters I've seen are here:

        https://despair.com/collections/all

        They have a poster for every organization, including YOURS!

        // failure *is* an option!

        // in fact, it may be the only option

  16. JimC Silver badge

    On connecting stuff...

    Not my error, but I've seen it more than once. Shared public sector offices between different organisations. both using RFC 1918 addressing, both using OSPF area 0 (reasonable enough with smallish networks) sharing a common wiring system, but with separate hubs/switches for each organisation.

    The two networks get patched together. Routing tables suddenly double in size, routing becomes extremely random, default routes go all over the place, chaos ensues.

    The first time I saw it was deliberately caused by a devolved departmental "IT manager" who thought it was a good idea to have shared access to files between organisations and didn't see fit to inform anyone. As one of the networks he linked up was NHS this was spectacularly poor thinking.

    The other time it was just a careless outsourced engineer who didn't know there were two organisations on the site and said to himself "funny, those two switches aren't connected to the router, I'll just patch them in".

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open plan offices are the singular worst thing about modern life. Some of us have mild yet gradually debilitating sensory processing disorders that mean general noise and in particular people's personal and bodily habits are impossible to filter out. Somehow I've kept mostly sane despite 20 years of working in open plan offices (at the detriment of a social life because I just cannot tolerate much further human interaction outside of work), but for me the limit will soon be reached. I can't even comprehend how anyone can concentrate on anything now in a room full of people shouting over each other and perpetually eating food and hammering keyboards and relentlessly clicking very clicky mice and waving fucking fidget toys in front of their noses. How do you function? How do you people do that? How did I ever do it? It seems cruel bordering downright evil. Truth be told I largely fake my nicely paid job now whilst spending most of the working day actively trying not to go crazy. I don't know how I'm keeping this up. Maybe I'm not. I don't know any more.

    My current place is undergoing an 'expansion' which means cramming even more people into the same space. I'd say I'd just quit again and go somewhere else but there came a point where I just can't face the same big-office crap all over again. I don't function in it any more, but nobody seems to accept that is a thing. Rock and a hard place. Alas I haven't had that epiphany yet as to how else I can earn a decent living. Some people have one when they've had enough of IT, I'm still waiting for mine :/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I can't even comprehend how anyone can concentrate on anything now in a room full of people shouting over each other [...]"

      Our open plan area included a customer network test cell - switched on 24/7. The fans on the several arrays of 1U Cisco boxes used to scream. It makes thinking about a problem very difficult.

      Bought a noise level meter - but couldn't persuade the site services to do a formal audit. So I retired.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open offices, open wounds

    We had one CEO who decided that open offices was the salvation of the company. He yanked everyone -- including VPs -- out of their offices and put them into rows of cubicles with partitions 20cm high, so useless. Legal people spent the entire day monopolising meeting rooms for their confidential phone calls. Everyone else wore big earphones. (The company still went downhill and he was gone before this shite could be inflicted everywhere.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open offices, open wounds

      "The company still went downhill and he was gone before this shite could be inflicted everywhere."

      Probably with a golden parachute - to another company who he had convinced that his ideas on office organisation were the way to go. Just like his previous company too.

  19. Martijn Otto

    It's a conspiracy

    by the manufacturers of noise-cancelling headphones!

    Without kidding, though, I work in an open-plan office and about 50% of the employees here have good-quality headphones with active noise-cancelling, myself included.

  20. Christoph Silver badge

    One thing the story doesn't mention

    is what the peasants workers thought about it. Cranking up the theoretical efficiency a couple of points is bloody stupid if staff morale plummets.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: One thing the story doesn't mention

      Theoretical efficiency up but actual efficiency will be down. the best office layout is one where the team (any size) can work without obstruction or distracting other teams. 200 seat high density open plan works well for call centres but a disaster for multiple small dev teams.

      Unfortunately this leads to perceived favouritism when different job functions end up with very different facilities and obviously requires an adequate thinking ability from management to avoid anyone taking the proverbial.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One thing the story doesn't mention

        There was an efficiency study into the effect of office lighting. So an experiment commenced with observers taking notes. As the lighting level was reduced - at each stage efficiency improved.

        Then they turned it back to the original level - and efficiency improved again.

        The lighting level was irrelevant - the workers were responding to the observers apparently taking a benign interest in them and their work.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm at odds

    Anon cause part of this comment involves where I currently work.

    I'm a very quiet person so like to keep to myself. If people talk to me first I'll talk to them but I never go out of my way to talk to people, too self conscious. I've learnt over the years however, isolating yourself doesn't help. So having separate offices is sometimes nice because people like me can keep to themselves but also shit if you're stuck in there with the odd few arseholes and the realisation you're isolating yourself more which is never good for confidence.

    At least if you're in an open office, everyone has to deal with those arseholes so maybe they won't be such arseholes. I've also realised although I'm not a fan of talking to people, I like to people watch.

    So I'm at odds. I like keeping to myself so being in an office on my own is nice at times but it also gets boring and you do feel like you're isolating yourself. Forcing me out into an open office has probably been better for me. An old place I used to work, although we originally thought an open office was a bad idea, it does look so much better now. It's still not great, it was VERY noisy but before that, they were stuck in what appeared to be 60s-70 style cubicles. Not like in the film Office Space. But like old style cabinets of the metal or wooden kind. These would be their dividers but also their storage. It made the hole building look like it was stuck in the 60s, with the mentality with it the way the men behaved. Making that building an open office changed that somewhat for the better. But still not perfect.

    Open offices aren't perfect by any means. They annoy me as all the hipsters have brought the idea in, thinking they are all cool and hip. Ignoring the fact they existed years ago and never really worked then. So much for looking back on history and trying to learn from it. They really do appear to not see this existed before. They are crap if you have annoying people in your area but then, although also annoying, this can be were hot desking works as it means you don't have to sit next to the same knob each day.

    In the current place I'm at we are all forced to hot desk, even the Chief Exec. What I don't understand is this. We had to sign a GDPR form recently saying we'd done the training and understood our responsibilities but this is on the form:

    Individuals who have access to personal data are required to:

    • Ensure that information is not discussed openly within the organisation for others to overhear, or in any general conversations.

    That isn't possible when you're in an open office. I hear ALL conversations all day about "personal data" that according to GDPR I shouldn't be hearing. It's not the others fault, they have no where to go to have those conversations. And most need to use their laptops while having that conversations. So each and every day, someone near me is technically breaching GDPR. How's that going to work out in the long run then?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm at odds

      "I hear ALL conversations all day about "personal data" that according to GDPR I shouldn't be hearing. It's not the others fault, they have no where to go to have those conversations. And most need to use their laptops while having that conversations. So each and every day, someone near me is technically breaching GDPR. How's that going to work out in the long run then?"

      At some point someone will do the right thing, and report them. There will be an investigation, fines, and positive change.

  22. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Hell is other people

    I work in an open plan office, and the noise from other people drives me round the bend.

    I've got a reasonably good decibel-o-meter app on my phone, so I tried measuring the sound levels when there are a few conversations going on around me. I also tried sampling the sound level when we had a fire alarm test.

    The fire alarm was only 3dB louder than typical background noise. It's no wonder I'm grumpy, have a headache and that my productivity stinks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell is other people

      > The fire alarm was only 3dB louder than typical background noise. It's no wonder I'm grumpy, have a headache and that my productivity stinks.

      Out of curiosity, I just measured the noise levels in my office with a phone app.

      At the moment, with one person talking on the phone, the volume level is around 30db, which the app reckons is a "quiet whisper". Earlier, when three people were talking together, it shot up to 80db, which it reported as "traffic/vacuum cleaner".

      However, one person's voice is louder and at a higher pitch than the rest, making it much more effective at drilling through the music in my headphones, which is intended to wall out at least some of the distractions while still making it possible to hear calls for attention (and as an added bonus, not leave me with tinnitus when used for up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week).

      I don't begrudge at all the fact that they're talking - vocal communication is a fundamental part of their jobs, and it's a happy, relaxed work environment. However, I long since got into the habit of starting late and finishing late; once the headcount drops at the end of the working day, it becomes a lot easier for me to concentrate and both the quantity and quality of my work markedly improve.

      Admittedly, I could potentially move to another office, but people often come into this room because there's too much commotion elsewhere...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hell is other people

      "The fire alarm was only 3dB louder than typical background noise"

      Are there no mandatory workplace safety limits on noise in your country?

      It sure sounds like the environment meets the normal standards for mandatory hearing protection for all workers... and no taking them off to use a phone or talk to people.

  23. Rabster

    DeMarco & Lister coding wars

    DeMarco & Lister ran "coding war" challenges for a few years and got very consistent results. Turns out the key predictor of programmer productivity in the study wasn't what language they user, or IDE or framework,it was the environment and specifically if they were able to focus on their work, especially a quiet office. Decent write up at https://bradpierce.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/the-best-performing-coders-have-larger-quieter-more-private-workspaces/

    Their book "Peopleware" should be required reading. Tagline: most technical projects fail for sociological rather than technical reasons.

    1. rnturn

      Re: DeMarco & Lister coding wars

      I've been suggesting Peopleware for years. It may not phase some open-office proponents, though. I have an old friend who travels the U.S. talking about office design and while he's read that book (or, at least, claims to have read it), he still pushes for open offices.

    2. Stephen Wilkinson

      Re: DeMarco & Lister coding wars

      Peopleware was required reading on my software engineering degree!

  24. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Flawed experiment design?

    "a 'sciometric badge' that was worn around the neck"

    If I sit at my computer monitor and talk to people around me, the "sociometric badge' will only see me apparently talking into my computer screen. And likewise the people I'm taking with. With cubicles, you have to leave your computer and find someone to talk to... unless "cubicle invasion" is a thing where you are. See Dilbert cartoon (of course): Friday January 12, 1996.

  25. Drew Scriver

    What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

    Shocking observation: there are essentially two types of people: extroverted/gregarious and introverted.

    Executives and HR tend to attract the gregarious people. They are convinced that there's something wrong with introverted people and one of their missions in life is to fix those poor souls. Office parties, picnics, barbeques, and, of course, open floor plans.

    Notwithstanding their stated commitment to "the inclusive workplace", they cannot fathom that many people (especially in IT) don't enjoy open workspaces and are distracted by the additional audible and visual queues - which in many cases hurts productivity and quality.

    Millions are spent converting offices from cubicle farms to open floorplans, and any negative feedback is seen as an attack on the wisdom of spending all that money on their commitment to better the world.

    Which, of course, it is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

      "[...] they cannot fathom that many people (especially in IT) don't enjoy open workspaces and are distracted by the additional audible and visual queues [...]"

      It is the gregarious types who are distracted. They can't resist getting themselves to where "the action" is.

      There are also introverts who have extrovert behaviour traits - and presumably vice versa.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

        It is the gregarious types who are distracted. They can't resist getting themselves to where "the action" is.

        There are also introverts who have extrovert behaviour traits - and presumably vice versa.

        ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

        And there are a number of neuropsychological conditions that affect tolerance for and effect of distraction, completely independent of the behaviour of those with neurotypical brains.

        In some places, workplace disability / human rights regulations may mandate accommodation for those people adversely affected.

        1. Faceless Man

          Re: What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

          I'm a distinctly non-gregarious, Introvert with no extrovert (or extravert) behaviour traits, and I find it difficult to work in a noisy environment. It has been suggested I might be "on the spectrum", but actual medical and mental health professionals tend to disagree.

          I just can't work if it's too noisy. I can't block noise out, as I have hearing problems (probably a form of industrial deafness) that makes filtering noise difficult, resulting in whatever I am trying to listen to and whatever is going on around me both being unintelligible. It doesn't help that I really don't like dealing with people, and some of the people around me are particularly annoying, so when I can hear what they're saying I start to get angry. And now with hot-desking, I can't even be sure one of these idiots won't be sitting next to me at some point, being particularly annoying. I don't have the option of working from home, nor am I particularly interested in it as a long term solution.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

            Seems I'm not neurotypical for an IT person. A lot of the complaints about offices I'm reading here just don't affect me and I like working co-operatively in teams. Yet I am generally an introvert and will shun socialising with the same people. I also vehemently protest about constant unnecessary meetings.

            For me, using a cubicle to isolate people from each other is inhuman and treating them like machines. I will never find them acceptable and I really struggle to understand why people might like working in them. If I ever see it anywhere I would consider blowing the whistle to the authorities about abuse of staff.

        2. Drew Scriver
          Pint

          Re: What execs and HR can't seem to understand...

          "In some places, workplace disability / human rights regulations may mandate accommodation for those people adversely affected."

          In the USA, anyone with a challenge like AS/ASD, ADHD, SPD, et cetera would be able to apply for a "reasonable accommodation" under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) if the open office environment presents a hindrance to perform one's job adequately.

          Noise-cancelling headphones would be almost certain to be seen as a reasonable accommodation (perhaps not by the employer, but they don't get to define "reasonable"), but cubicles, enclosed offices, and working remotely are also options that (especially larger) companies may be required to offer.

          Many companies even have insurance to cover equipment like NC-headphones.

  26. Chozo

    Cubicle Life

    I was at a job interview early 1990s and all was going well until Itsy & Bitsy glove puppets appeared over the partition behind the HR droid. Still have nightmares about tribes of Sylvanian families appearing on my desk carrying post-it notes for my attention.

  27. Robert Moore
    Thumb Up

    6Ft cubes

    I worked in an office with lovely 6Ft tall cubicles. (One of the best things about that gig.) They got in some consultant (Moron) who told them what they needed to do was cut down all the cubes to 3Ft, the company of course started planning to implement the change, and announced it to the staff, as a fantastic new productivity increasing corporate innovation.

    This resulted in open revolt. Senior people started openly looking for work elsewhere.

    Strangely this resulted in the decision being reversed, and the cubes remained 6Ft tall. Just goes to show that sometimes if you fight management you can win.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To draw on my full misanthrope, based on my time at Google open plan offices go beyond merely reducing collaboration to reducing individual productivity. Unless you're particularly skilled at working while the latest small cluster of children forgets that their product is just one of a dozen or so being worked on in the immediate vicinity and decides to treat their particular launch day as the opportunity for drones and music. Naturally without any sort of managerial intervention, because confrontation is not the Googly way. Repeat ad infinitum.

    Besides anything else, it's Google. Whatever it is, their product will have been cancelled in favour of two identikit products within 12 months.

  29. Sir Loin Of Beef

    Problem is, when your stuck in a room with nine other people more than three meetings becomes such a racket that I have to walk out just to hear myself think.

    No privacy to talk openly or freely, these open spaces are idiotic.

  30. IGnatius T Foobar ✅

    Flaw in their methodology?

    The methodology this article describes, suggests that perhaps it doesn't account for people simply shouting across the floor to communicate with others who are now in visual range.

  31. Long John Brass Silver badge
    Gimp

    Mixed mode

    In my experience semi open plan works well. If you are sited with your "team" the low partition wall idea seems to work well. But only if the team is somewhat isolated from the rest.

    That doesn't necessarily mean high cubicle walls, just enough space so that you have room to breathe. But them means you stuff as many rats into the can :(

  32. iced.lemonade

    Productivity and Open Plan Office

    My level of productivity and number of people working around me is inversely related. Thanks boss for the flexibility, now I rent and work in my own tiny workshop not so far from my head office so that I can escape the productivity drop in that open plan office and get my job done promptly.

  33. Dacarlo

    As the saying goes...

    Hell is other people. Open plan offices is 'more people'.

    #deathtoopenplan

  34. Jtom Bronze badge

    Egads, doesn't anyone have the same problem with this as I? Put a bloody 'sociometric badge' around my neck to monitor when I'm talking/listening to someone and with whom (and to trust you that you aren't actually recording the conversation), and I'll retreat to e-communications, too. I hate open floor plans for all the reasons given in the comments, but the Big Brother aspect of this research would literally leave me speechless.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    i dont always watch the people i loathe

    but when i do, i do it all at once in an open plan office.

  36. imanidiot Silver badge

    Öpen offices are overrated

    I'll just leave this short doc here.

    As usual it's a story of taking a great idea and completely missing the point.

  37. Diez66

    Open Plan, Me?

    I was the noisy one, not using hands free but constantly chatting and basically quite noisy.

    My boss did point this out.

    My response was, "Well you knew what I was like and You! put me in an open plan office".

    Not sure this make me a good guy?

    I hate and hated open plan offices, I also know what I was like and knew I would bog it up.

    I used to be a technical trainer, thank god for closed training rooms where my chat and banter seemed to be just right.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That’s a poor outcome because plenty of other studies suggest that email is a less efficient medium of interaction than face-to-face communication

    Nah, with email I can list in detail what steps need to be taken to resolve the problem and even use diagrams.

    Face to face I both have to deal with and just make vague hand gestures about "you know that thing fixes that and y'know connect to that server, you know the one, that'll sort it"

  39. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Combine the open office with a rehabbed concrete warehouse with no carpeting (looks "edgier") and a conference room behind you.

    Noisy and distracting, the whole day long. I can hear every dropped item, every woman with high heels, every conversation in the entire office. And it's even more fun when there's a meeting in the conference room behind me, with someone calling in on the speakerphone.

    Every.

    Single.

    Sound.

    It's like they thought, "how can we make it impossible to concentrate?" and then did a bang-up job of implementing it.

  40. Someone Else Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Lemme hear you say, "Duh!!"

    That is all.

  41. MadocOwain

    Tour of Fortune 50 companies in the US

    As a former finance IT consultant, I got to spend a lot of time in many different US office complexes for a few days up to 4 years. All of the companies I went to in the past 10 years were trying to ditch expensive real estate as a benefit of having these open plans/hot seats. Having their contractors and consultants close by was the usual. The worst 3:

    3. Eli Lilly, General Electric (tie) - Headcount was always a concern for the shareholders. One benefit to the open office plan was that no one missed "Bob" when he was fired or replaced by "Contractor Bob" - no office to clean out, no visible sign "Bob" ever worked there existed. All phones were VoIP through your laptop. There was no place to put your "De-motivational" posters, and every day you had to pack in and out everything you thought you would need for your day at work.

    2. Cummins - For my first two years at this client, I was assigned a "cube" in their open office. It was an older location so they still had offices lining the edges but they were all glass so "fishbowls". The fortunate folks were assigned cubes about 2 sq.m., 6' walls. I ended up in a SLOT, a half-cube I shared with a building support pole. Said slot was 1 m. x 2 m., full walls all the way around except the 1m wide entrance on the 2m side. 2 years. The alternative, I was told, was a basement conference room shared by 15 people, most of whom thought personal hygiene was optional. I was allowed to keep things on my 'desk' and on the walls, but my monitor screen was a large enough percentage of the total space I simply kept them on my PC's desktop wallpaper instead.

    1. Cummins again - Remaining 2 years for this client was in their "brand new" open office, a converted department store in downtown nowhere, about 14,000 sq.m. of open space and a 6m high ceiling. "Desks" were 12m x 2m tables with tiny frosted plastic dividers between the individual's seats, said seats lining both sides of the table. Glass fishbowl rooms lined the outer edges but were for quick 1-2 person meetings, or larger conferences, and were not reservable by contractors. Any management up to director level was forced to sit with the plebs. Like #3 above, you had to schlep in and out everything you needed for the day. Employees got lockable cubbies to stash crap in, contractors not allowed. 90% of this office space was contractors.

    In the center of this glorious space was an attempt at a small shoppe, but no human attendant, just a kiosk and a bunch of snacks and microwavable foods. No cream for coffee or tea, no silverware, so pretty useless. The smells from the various foods brought in wafted through the entirety of the office, as did any B.O. or perfumes. And.. the noise.. so much noise. It was the single worst location I ever spent time in, and I previously worked for 7 years in an air route traffic control center's sub-basement.

    I spent much of my time "squatting" in various fishbowls in that building and in an adjacent building, until caught and forced back to the squalor. An alternating schedule of weeks at home and on-site helped as it was harder to notice the same person was in the area 4 or 5 days every other week. My productivity soared once I was allowed to work from home.

    I escaped Cummins last year and quit consulting, I opened a virtual reality arcade close to home for my sanity's sake.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Until last year I worked for a company whose chairman (person?) decided that 1 big open office would save the company. So, the accounts team, mostly boisterous ladies were sat near the programmers. The account management teams were all sat together and 2 or 3 of people had telephone voices so loud they didn't really need the phone. My colleagues and myself on IT support usually went off to "work" in a server room somewhere to avoid the queue of people next to our desks trying toget things fixed quicker than calling the support number. Add to that the constant trail of people trying to find one on the few meeting rooms free because they had "confidential" stuff to do and it was a resounding success. I heard recently it was so successful they are re-implementing separate offices for the various teams.

  43. Faceless Man

    This just in...

    Moved to open plan/hot desking in the last couple of days. I get in early, so I pick myself a desk down in the corner of our "home zone". Then everyone who comes in after me comes and sits next to me, has loud conversations, and one guy has even brought his special, extra clacky keyboard with him.

    Why is it the people who are most enthusiastic about this are the people who behave the worst in this environment?

  44. A_Melbourne

    They did this at the HQ of British Airways a long while back in their then new office. Judge the results for yourselves.

  45. RealBigAl

    I worked for a company that converted it's European office from Cubes to open plan at the same time they changed their US offices from Open Plan to Cubicles.

    The rational was apparently some piece of research that said it was the change that increased productivity, not whatever configuration they were moving too.

    No doubt they're of swapping both sets of offices back again by now.

  46. Sujan Azad Parikh

    That is interesting. But, what might be the actual reason behind employees resorting to electronic means to communicate?

  47. aj69

    email is a less efficient medium of interaction than face-to-face communication

    Not necessarily true when a previous F2F relationship exists.

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