If you have ever worked in an open floor plan office, there's a good chance that you fall into the majority of people who hate it. I've worked in a few open floor plan offices and I know I sure hated it for the following reasons:
- There was a lack of privacy. It felt like eyeballs were staring at my screen or people were eavesdropping on my phone conversations.
- Everyone sees and notices everything. Kiss your work life details goodbye because all of your meetings will be noticed, people will see you coming in 15 minutes late, and people will see all of your interactions with others.
- Due to the lack of privacy, it was hard to express myself. For example, if I came into work and my hamster died and the thought of it brought me to tears, I wouldn't want the rest of my co-workers seeing me that way. Once people see me crying, it distracts me and everyone around me, then office chatter begins. Not fun.
- There was a feeling of mistrust that made me feel like someone's going to judge me for what I have on my computer screen.
- It was distracting and noisy with the people around, interacting with others and hearing other people's conversations. It's even worse sitting near the kitchen or on the main passerby lane - I couldn't get anything done and people kept coming by to chit-chat.
- There's no break from seeing my co-workers, which could be irritating and unhealthy for a relationship.
- Sometimes I just wanted to be alone and hide away from everyone but couldn't.
- It was just overall uncomfortable.
While there are many companies who believe that open floor plan offices are collaborative, there's another side that is often overlooked. There are many studies that suggest they're linked to lower productivity, memory impairment, reduced motivation, decreased job satisfaction, and high stress as found in a study by Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein.
In Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, she mentions open floor plan officesare "often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates; releases control, the body's fight-or-flight "stress" hormone; and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others."
When I was at Kaboodle, we ran out of office space for a group of recently hired interns and it was decided to throw "the interns" together on a long table, fitting four people. They had to arrange their monitors to block their tablemates in order to get some privacy. While the majority of the company space was a combination of cubicles and offices, they were subjected to an area that really singled them out, making them uncomfortable with a lack of privacy to express themselves in their own way.
When I was at RockYou, the floor plan was completely open so people started to get suspicious of impromptu leadership meetings, thinking that something was wrong (especially while the company was struggling and had gone through a recent layoff). Everyone would chat about who they saw going into the meeting room, what facial expressions were like, and what they heard, wondering if the company was in trouble again.
Because I'm an introvert, I work productively and effectively by myself with no distractions. I thrive in a quiet environment. It works well with the specific marketing career that I'm in, requiring a lot of focus to develop strategy and to analyze data. Luckily, some of the companies I've worked at were huge in space and had multiple private rooms, so I spent a lot of my work days tucked away in a nice sized room with my music playing through my laptop speakers. It was a wonderful feeling. I'm not opposed to collaborative work environments and do think it's important, but there is a specific time and place for it.
What many companies fail to take into consideration is thinking of productive working scenarios and different worker personalities. There are introverts and extroverts types. There's collaborative work and work that needs to be done completely in private. In an article by Bloomberg, Google may be the only company acknowledging that about their workers and creating different work spaces so people can be productive in their own special way. In order to increase the productivity and satisfaction in workers, an office should have designated areas for them to use that matches with their work style, such as private rooms for introverts or collaborative meeting rooms for teams.
Even if you think about it from a health standpoint, a study from The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health reported workers in open floor plans take more sick days than those who work in closed spaces, possibly due to viruses and bacteria or stress due to being in an environment with no privacy.
Given all of this, I hope to stick to my cubicle for a long time, but preferably my own office (which I really miss having).