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[dupe] Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace (2014) (washingtonpost.com)
73 points by deminature on Dec 2, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments



Previous discussion last year: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8815065


This is actually the fifth time this is up for discussion (not counting the two submissions with zero comments):

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=the%20open%20office%20trend%20...


And that's not including the discussions of open offices not linked to this specific article.


I have been in two open office scenarios at two different companies.

At the first company, it started as sharing a corner with five other people. This was tolerable, but then we shuffled around I had an office shared with one other person. This was fantastic. Then, it went to High Density which was over 10. There were no sales people, but getting interrupted was frequent. Furthermore, there were many pauses in the day because I had to ping people or I was blocked by various things and what-not.

At the second company, it very much so open office, and it has been wonderful. I rarely, if ever, get interrupted. Also, I rarely, if ever, get unblocked. My biggest problem now is not watching the clock and missing the right moment to leave before I make the wife unhappy.

My conclusion is that the open office versus closed office depends a ton on culture more than the actual office. If you have respectful colleagues, then an open office isn't bad. If you reach flow, then an open office isn't bad.

Unfortunately, I don't think many companies can achieve both a respectful environment and have engaging work.


> My conclusion is that the open office versus closed office depends a ton on culture more than the actual office.

Your comment seems to indicate that at best an open office "isn't bad" if it's basically used like a closed office without walls. That doesn't sound like "open office versus closed office depends a ton on culture", it sounds like "open office being a workable option at all depends on culture", with closed offices always being at least equivalent and usually being superior.


I think open offices require radically different workplace philosophies than most companies have today.

I think some companies can be do better with open offices than they would with closed. So, I don't think there is a universal ruling on whether open is better than closed.


An open office isn't ever an issue for me because of being interrupted or blocked. It's simply that an office full of people, with the requisite fashionable foosball/ping pong table, is loud and distracting. There's no getting around the fact that if you need to concentrate, you need to be able to do so while listening to music, because you're not going to get a moment of quiet during the work day. Alternatively, you can work late and do your thinking after most people go home. Both of these options are less than optimal, and I find it frustrating at times. Of course, offices with doors are not remotely realistic for a startup in San Francisco, so this is a sacrifice we make.


It's simply that an office full of people, with the requisite fashionable foosball/ping pong table, is loud and distracting.

Every place I've worked with an open office, the ping pong tables and social spaces have been nowhere near where people work. I'm in an open office right now and unless you are actually coming to talk to one of us there is no reason for anybody else to walk through this part of the office. The sounds I'm currently hearing is the keyboard of the person across from me and the soft murmur of a quite phone conversation a few desks over. If I slip on my headphones all the noise disappears, even without playing any music. If people are loud and distracting in and around the place people are trying to work, then that is a problem orthogonal to any problems of an open office.


I should have clarified interruptions. It was either someone coming to me, someone in the room talking, or a random conversation in the next cell.

I think games near people working is toxic, so that needs to be managed better.

In terms of quiet, that is cultural and respect based.


I found I was the most productive when I was in a small office with 2-3 other developers, with a door we could close. Everyone was setup this way, and people ended up decorating each of their rooms and every room had a "theme" (ours was called the lounge). This degree of personalization brought me closer to my co-workers whom I shared the office with, and as a result we worked better together.

In the afternoons, we'd have our "coding sessions" where we could close the door and just sink into whatever project/problem we were working on. The result (without constant distractions of people walking by/around us) was extremely productive.

This was back in Ohio years ago. Since then, I've moved to the bay area where I've unfortunately been forced to work in open offices. I find them depersonalizing and my ADD kicks in with people constantly walking by/around me. I isolate myself with good noise canceling headphones, but I find myself longing for the days when I shared an office with some really cool dudes. Or, maybe I still haven't found a team I like.

Anyway, I find it odd that companies in the bay area, with how innovative everything is out here, think open offices are good and/or work. You pay people 6 figures to use their mind and then make them sit in a room all day with constant distractions. It makes no sense.


+1 for copy/pasting your old comment[1] when the same discussion pops up yet again within 30 days. I suppose there's really nothing new to say here.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10514904


haha :-P


I've been in multiple open office plans in my short career and there is a definite divide between open office. My current office is spacious, lot's of cupboards in between work places and has a ton of meeting rooms (which can't be reserved but are used "ad-hoc").

My previous open office plan was a fully booked, over crowded space with too little meeting rooms. This means that 1. There are more people in the same amount of space and 2. meetings happen at desks because there is no place to go to talk privately.

If you use an open office to create more communication in the office whilst at the same time putting the workers comfort first it is an amazing tool. But it's misused to put more people in smaller spaces.


A theme here seems to be that open offices work if and only if there's still concretely defined places for noise and for silence.

If everyone's desk is in the "bullpen",

1. the bullpen needs to be a quiet place

2. you need to have social/discussion spaces quarantined from the bullpen so as to not distract everyone all day.

The issues all seem to come from places where the entire workspace is a bullpen, with social, group work, and individual work happening in the same environment.


I don't think I have ever worked in an office that wasn't either cubicles or open plan .. with one or two small exceptions. I have never really minded the lack of privacy but noise has always been an issue. There's always an office loud-mouth who thinks his or her thoughts should override everybody else's. At this stage a heavy set of headphones are a standard part of my office equipment.

I get that giving an individual office to everybody perhaps isn't feasible, and I also get that a more open plan office can in fact facilitate communication. But there are degrees .. I've had hard and soft-wall cubicles, open plan with dividers, open plan without dividers, facing a wall, facing a colleague but thankfully I have never had to deal with the author's scenario of a shared single long desk though I have seen some of my colleagues endure this, nor hot-desking either.

So in summary, I think an open plan office is fine in principle, and I believe there are some issues with private or shared offices it does address. But it does introduce some distractions and other problems that should be mitigated, and ultimately should never be at the expensive of having a bit of personal space.


We have an open plan office with two or three exceptionally loud/annoying developers and yet the boss refuses to allow anyone to wear headphones as it is 'unprofessional'.

He also refuses to allow plants in the office because he doesn't like plants, and loses his shit whenever he hears any talk of unions because unions are 'communism'.

I'm currently looking for other opportunities lol.


sounds like a buzz :-D


Problem is our work as software developper isn't uni-dimensional. We sometimes need brainstorming, fostering ideas, imagination moments, and we sometimes need ultra-focus "flow" moments. I'm working at home, and i sometimes turn on the music, and watch outside for inspiration. I sometime call or meet friends for social interaction, and i sometimes am so focused that i forget everything around me and code for hours straight.

You can't reasonnably assume that 10 people in a room will be in sync all the time.


This is, and has been for many years, the norm in the UK. I've been working for over quarter of a century and have had my own pod/room for about 6 months in that time.

It's something you largely get used to, and in some ways is beneficial. Assuming you're working on the same things, it's far easier to pop your head up and discuss a quick question than to wander into someone's cubicle.

If you're randomly hotdesking with strangers though, it's far less good except as a general social thing.


> it's far easier to pop your head up and discuss a quick question

Oh man I hated it when people did that. I've been working from home for 5 years now and it's pretty great, except for my hatred of people not being able to use instant messaging properly.

Back when I worked in an office, if I was intent on my work, some idiot would inevitably need me and because I was thinking I wouldn't hear them. So they'd go, "Phil. Phil. Phil! PHIL! PHIIIIILLLLL!!!!" which is when they get my attention. Not realising of course that to me it feels like some wanker has just screamed "PHHIIIIIILLL!!!" in my ear whilst everyone laughs.

My new hatred is how people think instant messaging means ALWAYS getting instant feedback. So you're sat there working on something and realise someone's sent you a message 10 mins ago. It says, "Hi Phil". So I respond, "Hi". Now they've gone to the toilet or something and come back and say, "Hi, so my question is...". Why don't people ever just put, "Hi Phil, my question is..." right at the beginning? That way when I read your message I can answer you and we don't have to guarantee we're both at the keyboard.

And whilst on a rant, I also hate, "shouting across the room". This is where someone sets up a group chat for something, and then ends up using that group chat for the next six months even when they actually just want to speak to one person. Because it happens to be in their "Recent" list on Skype.


People asking me a quick question doesn't bother me in the slightest - if I don't want to be disturbed, I put my headphones on. If a 30 second conversation can stop them having to set up a meeting, or allows them to get on with what they were stuck on, then great.

Of course, if someone comes to talk to me when I've got my headphones on, that's a different matter...

As for why don't people start with "Hi Phil, my question is..." - if you're not available now, I'll go and get the answer from someone else. I don't want to type out a big long question if you're not ready to respond. If I don't need an answer now(ish), I'll probably email.


"Each day, my associates and I are seated at a table staring at each other, having an ongoing 12-person conversation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m."

Been there, done that. It was very counter productive, and led to me shifting my office hours gradually so I came in late and stayed late, as well as worked from coffee shops whenever possible (writing a presentation, writing documentation, catching up on emails, pushing odd bits of code to GitHub, etc).


The article is a year old. Someone add (2014) to the title


Whoops, didn't notice. Title edited.


You see this Open Office virus thriving all over European startups. All the startups I've visited have this open office layout. The funny thing is that they're proud of it and list it as a feature in their job posts.


I've been to the open office at Pivotal in SF and it's ridiculously loud. It amazes me paired programmers can consistently focus on work with that much noise.


"Destroying the workplace" is a bit of a hyperbole.


I was in an open office at my last company, and loved it. I'm just one data point, but I vastly prefer it to cubicles.


I feel with the author. One should think that employers are more interested in work performance.


I've never had the luxury of my own office and google wasn't around when I started. I must praise the author for her highly developed sense of entitlement.


Looking for an effective environment so you can be more productive and deliver far more value for the work your company pays you to do is evidence of entitlement?


I don't know what it's like where you live, but where I live, having your own office is an exceptional privilege. Not something most companies could afford for a free lance copy writer. My boss doesn't have his own office, neither does the customer I work for.

In my experience, at both large and small companies, the only people who have had their own offices were either the CEO or people whose work has them talking on the phone much of the day, so they would be too disruptive to the rest of the team if they were in the same room.


Sure, a private office is quite uncommon. But I don't see how you can criticize the author for a "highly developed sense of entitlement" in pointing out the shortcomings of open office plans and then making suggestions for both reducing the drawbacks and to encourage employers to allow more people to work from home.

Honestly, it sounds like sour grapes on your part:

  Driven by distraction, a freelance copywriter asked for
  a private office but was denied one, although he made a
  compelling case for the increased productivity. As he 
  went away, the copywriter remarked 'Oh, private offices
  are for people suffering from highly developed senses of
  entitlement! I don't know anybody who has one.' 
  People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot
  attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.
[Adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fox_and_the_Grapes#The_fab...]




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