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U.S. workers hate ‘open’ office spaces (prdaily.com)
362 points by Corrado on March 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 344 comments

The implication that open offices are fine as long as you are using noise-cancelling headphones irks the hell out of me. If a working environment is noisy/distracting to the point that you can't be productive without having to rely on headphones, then there is a fundamental problem with your environment.

People should not HAVE to do buy/use something just to be productive. It's downright disrespectful to expect your workers to just "deal with the noise in a professional manner".

There's really only one kind of environment where open offices make sense, and that's if you're in a high-stakes production environment. The classic example is the trading floor: everyone on the team works in the same room because they all need to be within shouting distance in case the poo hits the fan. Also, because it's important that we be able to hear when someone shouts across the room, we're usually pretty good about keeping our voices down except in emergencies. It's certainly not our favorite part of the job, but trading floors are historically high-stress environments, and (1) we're compensated accordingly, and (2) we all knew that when we signed up.

In a typical corporate office, I would not tolerate it. I would push back, and I encourage anyone with sufficient job security to push back too.

In a typical corporate office, I would not tolerate it. I would push back, and I encourage anyone with sufficient job security to push back too.

Very early in my career, when I as still operating in the break/fix world of help desk support I toured an office during an interview. It was a boilerroom sales team, complete with a gong that someone bashed as I walked along the back wall to the conference rooms, everyone cheered madly, papers flew, loud music started playing off of a set of overhead speakers. I winced the moment the music blared and almost visually grimaced from the volume. Along the way the hiring manager interviewing me pointed to an area in the back of the office with laptops stacked up to the desk from the floor, monitors, cables everywhere-directly underneath one of the speakers. He didn't have to tell me, I figured it out, but he told me anyway

"And over there is where IT sits".

I stopped the recruiter before we made it to the conference room and politely pardoned myself from the interview process. No way in hell.

IMO, that push back needs to start early, as early as possible where possible. Not everyone may have the circumstances to punt on an interview like that, completely understandable, but the interview is just as much for your benefit as theirs. Candidates should evaluate as much as they can by sheer power of observation as they can verbally asking about working from home.

That means taking in what you can that you might not be explicitly shown-or worse, steered away from if you're brought in for an on-site interview.

I had an intership where the devs were next to the trading floor. The noise level were very annoying and most work was done after the market had closed for the day

Apparently I've never had "sufficient job security" to do this, but then, I've never worked at a single company more than 5 years. Does this mean I'm supposed to work in conditions I hate for 10 years, just to be able to say something about it?

Yeah the problem is if you've been there for a long time, it's expected that you're going to stay forever and your complaints get minimized, deflected and ignored. The only way to shatter the caricature is to actually leave. I think the only time to do it is during hiring, but I would like to know how other people have managed it.

The problem is that if you're working at a place that switches to the open office layout, which happened to me, there are only two options: deal with it, or quit.

I made my feelings known most emphatically, but I stuck it out for 2 years, and now we are moving back to cubicles. The thing is, so many people now work from home that the open office layout isn't so bad.

Sounds good in theory, but who has enough job security to push back meaningfully on an open office?

Do you read HN? When we're not lamenting that someone wrote something new in JS, we go back to our mainstay of humble-bragging about our hard ball negotiating strategies.

I'll quickly summarize the majority of HN conversation for the uninitiated: if a potential employer asks you to write something on a white board or solve a take home coding problem, politely gather your things, leave, and start contributing to an open source Rust project until a more ethical employer makes you an offer. Follow the same procedure if a potential employer has an open office, uses recruiters, or employs anyone with the job title "Scrum Master."

But to answer your question, apparently like everyone that posts to HN. ^_^

God you are so much better than us. Tell me more!

My workplace feels like it’s designed to keep people from working so you have to fight for getting anything done. It’s crazy.

Not to mention the hearing damage I do to my ears in these environments. I can't get into flow unless I literally cannot hear or see activity around me.

I'm not sure what kind of noise you're being exposed to, but if you're in the USA, OSHA requires your employer to buy you PPE.

It's possible that escalating a "buy me PPE" request to the company lawyer could raise a few eyebrows into exactly what conditions you're being asked to work under.

I think they mean they need to use loud music on headphones to work

I'm confident I won't go deaf by the time I'm 40, but only because I'm 53. I would usually choose to listen to music anyway, but in an open office, it's a requirement. It doesn't help with the visual distraction, but I have a pair of "Howard Leight" headphones by Honeywell. They are passive noise-cancelling (meaning they just block out noise really well, meant for environments that require hearing protection), have decent sound quality and only cost me about $30.

In addition to being completely unable to filter out any distracting noise, I also have misophonia, so an open office is anything between distracting as all get-out and torture, but the headphones and some good loud music mitigate that greatly.

Same with the passive noise-cancelling headphones (Etymotics or Tough Sounds) and misophonia albeit with a side order of rampant tinnitus for added "have to listen to music all day? well, you're going to suffer overnight / tomorrow then!".

(I once worked between someone who tapped their feet and someone who drummed on the desk constantly. Those weeks were not productive, even with headphones.)

PPE=Personal protective equipment?


I can be productive without flow. Not maximally productive, but apparently good enough for a top 1% wage.

I have demonstrated this well enough to be afforded the freedom to get myself into flow when and by any means necessary.

Productive discussion isn't for you. Find a different outlet.

> good enough for a top 1% wage

Well then, stop complaining. People shovel shit all day for a fraction of that money.

> good enough for a top 1% wage

How is this relevant to the rest of the discussion?

"This job isn't for you." "This job _is_ for me, I make a lot of money doing it."

Weird flex much?

That does discriminate against a large group who work in tech.

> large group

So large it encompasses pretty much everybody, in fact.

I don't think it is really discrimination, if you can't handle an open office setting, then don't work at a place that utilizes one.

If someone can “handle” an open office setting, they are the outlier.

Open office high distraction setting may allow shallow work but is seriously prohibitive to deep work.

I can't speak for others, but I was absolutely furious when my company switched to an "open office" for the engineering department, and it went exactly as well as I predicted. A year and a half later, management promised we would go back to cubicles (and I gave my share of feedback and then some), and it's supposed to happen in the next week or so.

Not only did the noise increase immensely, and I went from 0 visual distraction to constant visual distraction, but the open office desks offered about 1/10th of the storage space of the cubicles we had. My desk is so cramped I'm constantly knocking stuff over, and I took home almost everything I don't actually need, save for a digital photo frame. This company treats me pretty well overall, but this open office thing was clearly a money-saving scheme, despite what they might have claimed (because 30 years of evidence shows that it's an _awful_ environment to work in, or as I would tell anyone who would listen, it's the most discredited idea since phrenology.)

The good news, of course, is that our ill-advised experiment is almost done, and I'll be back in a cubicle soon. (How times have changed... back in 2001 I had my own office! and now I'm happy to be back in a cubicle...)

I don't disagree with what you are saying about them being terrible work environments. But it isn't discrimination was my point. That's like saying someone that works at a coffee shop is being discriminated against because they don't like the sound of coffee grinders.

what part of software engineering practice functionally requires zero privacy or personal space and unending distraction?

I always did my job pretty well with a door that closes and my own little whiteboard. people would stop by for a chat, and we could go on for as long or as short as we liked without bothering anyone at all. we didnt spend 15 minutes going back and forth trying to find a booked conference room that happened to be empty to see if we could steal a few minutes discussion time.

what was I missing?

edit: (sorry, just to be clear, I dont think this is discriminatory, just kind of tragic)

Here's a fun fact... not everyone can get a job at a place of their choosing at a drop of the hat.

Okay that's true, but what does what you are saying have to do with it being discrimination? Someone not being hired or being treated badly for being a woman is discrimination. Not wanting to working in an open office space is not discrimination.

What if things change over time? Your group is moved from one building (or part of a building) with offices or cubes to an open workspace. Your team merges with another, possibly in a different location, that is in an open office and you have to visit. You get older, and well-known physiological changes associated with aging make open-office noise and visual distraction harder to bear.

Is it your position that in any of those situations the person should just find another job? Because that falls exactly within the definition of "constructive dismissal" and anyone with a half-way decent lawyer could win that case. In the last case you could add age discrimination for extra damages.

Discrimination is still discrimination even if "parzivalm" on Hacker News doesn't feel personally burdened by it.

When so much of tech takes place in an open office setting, "don't work at a place that utilizes one" approaches "don't work in tech". And when so much of white collar work in general happens in that setting, it approaches "don't work"

That's true, and I agree, I think open office settings are terrible, but that doesn't change that it isn't discrimination.

And how jarring it is to have someone walk up behind you and tap on your desk, or your shoulder, to get your attention while wearing headphones.

After a coworker screamed twice from this I made them a pretty RGB-LED display that flashes a rainbow when you press the button at the entrance to their cube. I am surprised I haven't seen any good products in this space. I feel like you could make good money selling programmers something that is essentially a button, battery LED and 6' of wire.

I’ve seen a product (forget the name) that does the opposite signalling. USB powered RGB light dongle on your desk/cube. Red means “don’t interrupt me unless the building is on fire”, orange was “don’t interrupt me” , green was “feel free to bug me with that question”

I’m sure they could be repurposed the way you suggest. But don’t most people in open spaces use slack or equivalent for that?

JWZ draped camouflage netting around his desk to make an ad-hoc "Tent of Doom": https://www.jwz.org/tent-of-doom/ . Maybe an actual tent would be even better.

Surrounding yourself by whiteboards might also allow you to approximate walls.

My mum has something that does this. She calls it a 'doorbell'. Doesn't even need the wire.

I just bought a new wireless doorbell. You can configure the sound and lights separately, so it would definitely work in this instance.

I had just replied to the comment above yours that doorbells do indeed have wires. Forgot completely about the new wireless ones. That makes much more sense.

They used to hand out as convention swag a little rear view mirror you attached to the corner of your monitor so you could see what's behind you.

I have one of those in my home office. For me it works. For others it would just add to the visual distraction. Something that is visible only when someone else is requesting attention still seems preferable.

For people who prefer the opposite approach, they should also hand out horse-style blinkers that restrict the wearer's field of vision to the front.

have someone walk up behind you and tap on your desk

I've got two colleagues that are horrible about this. Fortunate enough to have an office with a door, and play music quietly at my desk so I'll hear it if someone knocks--since I face slightly away from the door.

Except they'll skip knocking and just walk in and around my desk to do the shoulder tap if the door's open.

I've been training them out of this behavior by saying "oh hey did you knock? I must have missed it, what's up?"

Time will tell how this goes, heh.

Uh, do they just answer "no" and keep doing the same shit? I suggest you be a little more direct. "If the door's open, could you still knock so I know you're there? The shoulder tap is startling."

Yeah, some people just don't get subtlety. They have to be told directly.

I haven't written any unit tests for this yet :P

I _always_ wear headphones and I don't recall anyone actually tapping me on the shoulder to get my attention, which is good, because that kind of thing can startle the crap out of me. Usually they have to resort to waving their hand in my field of view, but that works fine.

Although I do wear headphones pretty much constantly, I have always made a point to be responsive to people and not ignore them. If someone needs my attention, they will get it, and I made a point of doing everything I can to help people. Yes, I'd rather not be disturbed, but if they really need my help, then I will gladly stop and help. This is no different than if I were in a cubicle or my own office. I have no problems with that kind of distraction. It's the unintentional distractions that we need to eliminate.

A better way is to wave your hand in-front of them. It is a visual clue and as long as it in their view it allows them to finish without the monitor being blocked. I like it but that is my two cents.

Why don't you turn around and request in a polite manner never to be tapped on the shoulder again?

> noise-cancelling headphones

After 8 hours, my ears actually hurt from wearing air-traffic-controller style headphones all day.

Air traffic controllers wear a small in the ear style headphone, and only in one ear. It was far easier to wear ATC headset than headphones all day. Plus I usually took a 30 min break every two hours so I didn't need to wear it all day.

I think he meant the airport employees on the tarmac who wear giant ear muffs.

You're giving me too much credit, I meant the guys in the air traffic control tower - I just thought they wore the same giant ear muffs that the guys down on the tarmac wear.

I've got even more bad news... the guys in the tower generally aren't ATC, but ground traffic control. The ATC guys will be in a dark room somewhere, probably a basement.

That would be wrong.

The guys in the tower are ATC, they do ground control (still ATC) and local control, surface to 2500' with a 5-mile radius. The dark room guys (TRACON) do surface to the top of their airspace (depends, 18k, 23k) with a 60-mile radius (roughly). Then there is center/en route, which does air traffic above the TRACON when you are level flying at 30k+.

Simplified version.

Source: Was an air traffic controller.

I can't believe Hollywood has been misleading me all these years...

Constant noise in and of itself is stressful. Whether it's coworkers on the phone, music you're drowning them out with or white noise to mask them and give your noise cancelling headphones input doesn't matter. I shouldn't be subjected to non-stop aural input 8 hours a day to type on a keyboard.

Not to mention that for some people, noise-cancelling headphones are nausea-inducing. I had this after a single day of using Bose's headphones, despite not getting nauseous from other common things (reading in a car, roller coasters, etc.).

Yes, and headphones are definitely not comfortable to wear constantly anyway. And sounds get through.

Private office, closing door. This should be the minimum price to hire someone.

For me it's not the noise; headphones take care of that. The problem is the visual distractions. People walking to and fro. If you know one of those people, then the chances of a distraction goes up even more. I guess a future way to mitigate it would be a high res VR HMD

This. Our desks unfortunately have to be so close as to face each other, and anytime the guy across from me is in the office I have to deal with distractions every time he wants to stretch, stand up, sit down, have a conversation with someone, etc. etc.

Now we actually have a flexible remote policy, but that's an entirely different can of worms, as I liked having a place to do deep work in that wasn't a coffee shop. My home is a bit too distracting sometimes.

Your comment is a nice example of how low-frequency distractions (A specific coworker shifting position in your field of view) can be much worse than being immersed in a high volume of distractions (strangers milling about in a coffee shop that's probably playing music, running grinders, yelling names, etc.)

It's about more than noise.

Cube walls, over the years kept getting shorter and shorter until finally doing away with them entirely.

The point is - the business requires that you have zero privacy or any kind of time to yourself in any capacity outside of assigned breaks.

The whole purpose is to create a panopticon of a work place, where even when you aren't being watched you modify your behavior on the possibility that you're being watched

Open offices are inherently authoritarian in a corporate/cyberpunk sort of way. That's their primary function. All this crap about collaboration and fostering open communication is just the face of it.

Agree, but when you buy headphone, make sure you buy a non-leaky model. Most headphones are awfully leaky at high volumes.

Leaky? Like, other people can hear them?

I'd have a hard time caring about that if I had to wear headphones and play them loud enough to drown out the noise around me in the first place.

(Luckily, I have a door and a pair of headphones with a noise cancelling function that is usually good enough without even any music playing.)

That's what I mean. If you are in a work environment, you may want to isolate yourself from a discussion happening behind you, but that's not a heavy metal concert environment either, if you use the headphones sold along the iphone, everyone around you will hear your music.

But even in a very noisy environment, think the tube in London, where the noise level when going through a tunnel can be similar to a factory floor, surprisingly, people will hear your noisy iphone and will be annoyed by it. Now if it is in London they will be too polite to let you know. But I think not making annoying noise is also a form of politeness I like to adhere to in any case.

That doesn't make sense.

Why would you want to ADD to the problem instead of being part of the solution?

couldn't agree more

How this was framed irked me, so to play devil's advocate, I looked at your comment outside of corporate life - the analogies I'm using in my head are factories and kitchens.

You need Steel-Toed boots and Earplugs for some locations - I'm not sure how much of that is compensated. For waste processing, you either "deal with it" or have a purchase some form of smell-cancelling equivalent (peppermint oil on a cotton swab is an example I've heard used in a hospital). What about slip-resistant shoes for cooking in a kitchen?

By all means, I don't enjoy the open office layout - I literally spent 20 minutes this morning talking to my immediate neighbor about NOTHING.

HOWEVER, I suppose what I'd like to ask is - "what makes a white-collar job's comfort more important than other occupations, to the point they should be either compensated for purchasing items to maintain it or isolated with [cubicle] walls put up?"

[Slippery slope fallacy incoming] Maybe that music or podcast is distracting you from work, I mean we wouldn't want you to see a 20, but think 10 because your podcast was simultaneously playing their 10% Squarespace ad. You are right, noise is distracting and corporate is now providing all employees with noise-cancelling earplugs.

EDIT: Since I've been downvoted, can I have an explanation, or is this a simple I'm saying something the HN community disagrees with?

I did not downvote you (and in fact can't since its a direct reply), but I'll bite.

Steel-Toed boots and earplugs are necessary because of safety requirements. You can crush your toes and lose your hearing as a result of that job.

Waste processing smells because of the fact that, well, waste smells. There is utterly nothing the company or the individual can do other than mask the smell for them self.

Programming has no such utterly-unavoidable noise aspect (unless you count meetings and around-the-desk discussions, things which I personally can deal with to a reasonable extent). There is absolutely, positively no reason that a company of a decent size can't format their office in a way that is less distracting than an open-office format.

Drawing a line between white and blue collar jobs in this manner is a false equivalence and a strawman.

I will agree that I did form somewhat of a strawman in my original post. Many of my examples were not for comfort, but for safety.

That said, I would still say that there are plenty of ways to improve (what I would consider) "comfort" in your work environment; however, they do not need to be reimbursed by the company (moving this back to your original post).

Likewise, as the other reply to this post mentions - cost.

Simply put, what is the cost involved and relative productivity gained/lost from each layout design. What about experimental designs? Without this type of information, it is difficult to convince a decision maker to improve these conditions. Those metrics need to be quantifiable, not anecdotal (I get more work when there aren't conversations around me vs. I resolved 10 bugs in the open office environment and 25 equivalent bugs in a cubicle).

This gets into more the MBA and Information Systems world of quantifying intangibles in tech (like productivity), but to obtain this in an environment that would be deemed acceptable for experimentation, you'd need a corporate culture interested in experimentation - because not every layout will work for every group or every person in said group. Even then, being a group that opts into experimentation is not indicative to a real work environment, and so better results would require a new cohort for each experimental layout.

Regardless, without decision maker buy-in and quantifiable metrics that can beat the cost/productivity metrics of open-office, articles like this only serve to form an echo chamber.

> Simply put, what is the cost involved and relative productivity gained/lost from each layout design. What about experimental designs? Without this type of information, it is difficult to convince a decision maker to improve these conditions. Those metrics need to be quantifiable, not anecdotal (I get more work when there aren't conversations around me vs. I resolved 10 bugs in the open office environment and 25 equivalent bugs in a cubicle).

This has been well documented since the early 2000s. Programmers are statistically and significantly more productive if they have enclosed offices with closing doors. And decision makers that care have been acting on it for just as long (see Joel on Software, I'm not a huge fan, but this has been a harping point of his, as an owner of a software company, for years).

Any company that forces programmers to work in open-plan environments is either ignorant, or just doesn't care.

> Any company that forces programmers to work in open-plan environments is either ignorant, or just doesn't care.

I'll agree with everything you stated but this as the terminology you use makes it sound malicious. Instead, I can imagine consulting firms with plenty of talking points convincing a decision-maker they were right. Furthermore, we cannot assume any particular environment will be optimal for all employees for all companies. "Productivity" was studied, but has branched into more concrete terms, rather than been solved. Even with a company that is open to helping improve conditions, what should they do, how long will the ROI take, etc.

While I accept the assumption of being more productive in an enclosed space, could you point me to a specific paper? Mostly because "productive" is not as well defined and is more a generalized term (respectfully, many terms can fall under the "productive" umbrella). I ask about the paper because a) I'd be curious to see how they define and measure productivity, and b) it may be beneficial for student learning (another knowledge-specific domain)

I'd argue that companies can provide everyone offices for the same reason that companies can't provide everyone robots that do the dangerous labor: It's expensive.

None of the managers I've ever worked for would have agreed with you. I've offered to pay for private offices out of pocket, and when pushed, to a one, they've admitted "OK, it's not really about the money."

Is there a tech company which has an open floor plan for programmers only because they're cheap?

> You need Steel-Toed boots and Earplugs for some locations - I'm not sure how much of that is compensated.

For boots, compensation is not required as "this type of equipment is very personal, is often used outside the workplace, and that it is taken by workers from jobsite to jobsite and employer to employer" [1] -- though I know some employers who offer a "Footwear Reimbursement", and/or loan out steel toe guards when requested.

Earplugs, yes, by law in the US.

[1]: https://www.osha.gov/dte/outreach/intro_osha/7_employee_ppe....

> "what makes a white-collar job's comfort more important than other occupations, to the point they should be either compensated for purchasing items to maintain it or isolated with [cubicle] walls put up?"

First, it has nothing to do with money. I've offered at several jobs to pay to escape the open office space, and I've always been refused permission. Other jobs are often isolated, when there's a possibility for distraction, even at these same companies.

Second, it's not about "comfort", either. Distractions make it impossible to concentrate, which is literally my only job. If they hired me to do a job, they can't simply put me in a situation where I can't apply my skills, and then judge me based on my performance there.

You're being downvoted because you're trying to steer the conversation into "compensation" and "comfort", neither of which are the issue here.

> "what makes a white-collar job's comfort more important than other occupations, to the point they should be either compensated for purchasing items to maintain it or isolated with [cubicle] walls put up?"

It's intellectual work that requires a high degree of concentration. Not all white collar work is like that and not all blue collar work isn't, but programming requires keeping a lot more in your head at once than someone on an assembly line and noise inhibits this. There's also the type of noise, people talking is a lot harder to filter out than other background noise, I can sleep with a train track a few meters away and can concentrate with music playing but I can't work in an open office.

> what makes a white-collar job's comfort more important than other occupations

It's not necessary to assume that it's more important to express a personal dislike or suggest that it's counterproductive. So the fallacy here is strawman.

> People should not HAVE to do buy/use something just to be productive

Buying high wall cubicles or paying for a construction company to build out offices is still buying something to be productive.

By 'people', it is pretty clear they meant employees, not the company.

I would assume most people are expensing noise cancelling headphones or writing them off. It's not an item the employee would be expected to cover, so its still cheaper for the company to do this than build outs.

I'd be surprised if those assumptions are largely true.

I think it's hilarious there are complaints about regular office noise like talking business on phones, typing, and sniffling/cough etc... If you want to go to sleep it's a perfect to expect that...otherwise stop complaining get headphones, move your desk, change your environment or remove yourself from the equation in some way.

I don't believe that productivity is hurt because of open office sounds, I think people just love complaining.

> I don't believe that productivity is hurt because of open office sounds

Your lack of belief does not invalidate other people's experiences. You may feel that your productivity isn't hurt in open offices, and you might even be right about yourself. But "this doesn't bother me so it doesn't bother anyone" (or even "so it shouldn't bother anyone") causes serious problems.

There's a reason people take exams in quiet rooms rather than in the cafeteria. There's a reason libraries are quiet and don't have live bands. If you can do the work that you do with the noise of an open office around you, the work that you do doesn't require much concentration and is probably mostly inconsequential.

That's a bit silly. How can you not be distracted when there are conversations happening around you, or when coworkers can intrude on your thoughts with idle curiosities?

I've worked both with my own office and in an open office. The difference is night and day. I'm vastly more productive and much happier in a closed door office. Most people report the same.

If you're working in an office you should expect some level of office noises. I'm not talking about a truck honking his horn outside your window for 8 hours is normal, I'm saying general noises - ones that have a short time on them, and are required for their jobs. I would have expected my comment to be clearer than it may have sounded.

To clarify, just because you're in a library doesn't mean it is absolutely pin drop quiet. There is basic atmosphere noise. I of course am in favor of a closed office, and cubicle farms and open environments are easily more favorable for the employer than employee, but it seems expected to have some basic noise in an open office that people love complaining about—instead of championing closed offices which is never going to happen in a lot of companies.

> I don't believe that productivity is hurt because of open office sounds, I think people just love complaining.

"It doesn't bother me, so obviously, it doesn't bother other people"

Recently got a tour from some former coworkers of the new PTC HQ in Boston, open office AND hotel style seating (no assigned location... stuff goes in a cubby at the end of the day).

So not only can you hate all the noise and distraction around you, but tomorrow it can be entirely new set of people that piss you off. Also nothing says "you don't matter" like not even giving someone 4x6 feet of space for a desk and chair they can call their own..

It’s astonishing to me that new staff as well as new managers became such eager consumers and proponents of open offices just because a few big-IPO companies made it _seem_ avant-garde.

At no time did they consider the effect on personal space and depersonification of this new “paradigm”.

People were hoodwinked into believing this was more social, more cooperative and more egalitarian. No it wasn’t. It was cheaper to seat people and it took freedom away from workers. You now had a multiplicity of eyes upon you. So now even if you don’t have anything productive to do till tomorrow, you have to at least pretend you have something to do now. So instead of thinking about what and how you’ll do things to morrow you waste your time pretending along with everyone else in the corral.

I saw this happen at places which say they “care about workers” and offer a good “work-life balance”. It was such horseshit. If you have to propagandize your beliefs you don’t actually believe them.

> It’s astonishing to me that new staff as well as new managers became such eager consumers and proponents of open offices just because a few big-IPO companies made it _seem_ avant-garde.

In my experience, it was rare that anyone was a proponent of it except as a cost-savings measure. In almost every case, everyone knew what it meant that the staff had open-plan but the people responsible for it had offices with doors.

...or conference rooms that are de-facto dedicated for their use. The modern thing is to brag that execs have open office desks among everyone else...ignoring the fact that they don't really spend any time at their desks.

Or even at the office at all. Not at all surprising how many execs decide to carve out policy exceptions to "no remote work" policies that apply only for themselves in such environments.

My employer is switching to a hotel/open office environment. I made a slightly snide comment about how it must've been designed by the bean counters. I was told it wasn't even saving my employer money. I was quite befuddled. "You mean you're giving us a shittier work environment and it isn't even saving you money?!?!"

Exactly this. I worked at a large corp. where they decided to implement an open office plan. Usual speech about how it will make everyone more productive, etc. All of the directors and above remained in offices with solid closing doors while everyone else was forced to essentially lose all pretense of privacy.

If it enhances productivity so much why is it not good for everyone. It was absolutely a cost cutting method allowing them to shove more peons in the same space and keep an eye on them all from the safety of their high towers.

Cargo culting at it's best.

It's worse than that. A cargo cult, at least, observes something they desire and tries to recreate the environment they assume created that desired outcome. But IT management observes nothing positive from open offices. Only because IT at other companies are going open office, they feel they must follow suit, because if they don't, they'll be seen by other IT fashionistas as being "out of fashion" -- damn the torpedoes.

Perhaps the better matching myth is the Emperor's New Clothes:


> But IT management observes nothing positive from open offices.

Lower per-head facilities costs.

> It’s astonishing to me that new staff as well as new managers became such eager consumers and proponents of open offices just because a few big-IPO companies made it _seem_ avant-garde.

That's how the tech community operates. You get a few early, loud supporters to shut down any conversation that may draw attention to the negatives. Eventually, years later those people grow hoarse from yelling and sensible people return to the conversation.

"Eventually, years later those people grow hoarse from yelling and sensible people return to the conversation."

I've never seen that.

Rather, the "innovators" fail upwards, never sticking around long enough to get pinned with the damage and chaos they caused.

No it was corporate building services deciding they know best.

I think it was a mixture of column A and column B. Open offices became a trend in cheap office buildings, sure, but there was also the fad among early "Agile" proponents/consultants that were very vocal that open office "communication" was some secret sauce to "Agile" that produced better or faster code somehow.

(The Agile consultant fad seems an interesting telephone game from the ideal of "pair programming". Devolving from "pair programming in offices setup up for two and only two developers to closely share code without other distractions" to "pair programming is easier in open offices than cubicles" to "open offices enable ad hoc pair programming without dedicating people to actually learning/using pair programming, right?" bokum.)


Having been on a high profile (presented at the IEEE) early RDA/DSDM/Agile project at British Telecom in the mid 90's.

1 You produce code faster - not necessarily better 1 month vs 2 years :-) 2 We had a dedicated section of the office just for the team - not the classic open plan office.

That's the point, open office spaces are essentially the panopticon idea from Jeremy Bentham in that regard. I used to work in a place where the managers would take the corner with two walls and all the workers would be observable.

That is literally every open office I've ever worked in. Walls are desirable, windows moreso, and corners are coveted. Remarkably, the highest-ranking workers seem to all occupy those desirable desks. Even more interesting, I've seen company officers bring in bookshelves to create spaces where they cannot be approached from behind (that office space was odd and mostly lacked corners). Egalitarian workspaces are a myth.

That would be my cue to find something remote and hightail it out of there.

Really? That’s how I feel about SPA frameworks and robotic process automation. It decreases efficiency, introduces technical depth and we’re solely doing them because everyone else is.

Next up is AI/ML.

I really feel like the emperor has no clothes with a lot of this stuff but people act like I'm totally batshit crazy for pushing back against added complexity. I'm ready to quit and find a new career but the thought of starting over (again) is too much.

I worked in an office that transitioned to hoteling.

It was the last in a series of increasingly-escalating "fuck yous" from the company's ownership to employees.

TBH they would have been better off just cutting 20% of their staff if they were looking to cut costs for whatever reason. It's better to have a smaller workforce of happier, productive employees than a larger number of alienated, angry employees all half-assing things while looking for other jobs.

I left soon after and never looked back. In retrospect it was a symptom of a bigger problem at the company.

Our office transitioned to desk hoteling. What it amounted to is a small set of people switching desks semi-regularly. The first month, everyone pulled down all their personal stuff. Six months later, most people never actually changed desks and ended up putting their personal stuff back up, 'claiming' desks as theirs anyway.

Didn't "hoteling" start out as "hot desking", where the idea is that there are fewer desks than employees because some percentage of employees are out of the office each day? What the point of not having assigned desks if you still have as many desks as employees?

> What the point of not having assigned desks if you still have as many desks as employees?

This is the point:

> https://www.wired.com/1999/02/chiat-3/

> As the unofficial story goes, Jay Chiat was skiing down a mountain in Telluride when it dawned on him that the conventional American office structure was antiquated and counterproductive; that revolution was not only inevitable but overdue; and that destiny had selected him, Jay Chiat, as its agent of change.

So the boss can see himself as a trend-setting visionary.

That link it pretty interesting, since it was clear that "hoteling" was awful 20 years ago in 1999. It's bizarre that I was reading about the how terrible 2019's trends in office space are when I was a kid.

In our case, we travel frequently so it isn't completely unjustified. However, in practice, everyone just started working remotely after the change so now there's rows of empty desks.

For better or worse, when remote working gets normed in a company location or group it tends to naturally expand. A lot of people who are more or less indifferent between working in the office or staying home stop coming in because so many of their co-workers aren't there.

This _only_ works if you have more people than desks, and the usage patterns are fluctuating.

Like you have 10 seats and 20 sales people or consultants, who spend 3/4 of their time on the road or on location. This way you don't need to spend money on seating that's not being used most of the time.

For everything else hot seating/hotel seating is utter crap.

Yes. It can make sense for people who aren't in the office much--especially if the alternative is to lease more space that will be half-empty most of the time. Last time I had to move desks, I just gave up having a permanent desk and took everything home.

If you're tight on space, it's perfectly reasonable to shift people who aren't in the office most of the time to hoteling but if someone is going to be butt in seat most days, why not give them a permanent space?

Leasing more space is expensive. The entire point of a hotelling office is to reduce costs.

Less space to lease, less desks and chairs to buy, less cabling to run.

Office space is expensive.

That's true. But it's not people sitting in different chairs each day that saves the space. It's increasing the utilization which means you need some critical mass of people who are out of the office on a given day. (Some have also promoted hoteling for other reasons but those reasons are mostly dumb.)

Our office is going through the same transition. Half of the desks are being removed to create "lounge areas", and there are no assigned desks. So now, people who used to be remote once or twice a week, are planning to just not show up at all and stay home. Where they have... you know, a real assigned desk with their stuff.

Doing this to people who are only remote one day a week seems extreme. But if you're actually remote most of the time, not having an assigned desk is really not a big deal for a lot of people. At least many of us don't really need a lot of stuff that isn't on our laptop in order to be productive.

Honestly, it seems like a net improvement in your situation.

At least until management cracks down and makes attendance mandatory.

And that's the thing. On the other side, they have all these initiatives to do catered breakfast/lunch, happy hours, game night, etc. To try to get people into the office. We have a lot of truly remote employees (coast to coast) so attendance will not be mandatory.

> nothing says "you don't matter"

That's what I can't wrap my head around with the debacle that professional software development has become... isn't there supposed to be a _shortage_ of developers? Wouldn't that suggest that they'd be trying to find ways to retain and attract us instead of finding new and creative ways of kicking us in the teeth?

There's a shortage of developers in part because of terrible management practices.

bingo. I can't wait to leave to find my dream job that is outside of IT and Software Development

So I strongly suspect that for people who will leave over the open office, there already exists better reasons for them to leave.

> hotel style seating (no assigned location... stuff goes in a cubby at the end of the day)

That sounds like the opposite of a hotel (no rooms, have to vacate overnight.)

The practice is called hoteling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoteling

I know it's called hoteling. My point is it's weird that it's called that because not having a room that is yours overnight is the exact opposite of what a hotel does.

You can bag check when you leave a hotel for the day...

One level deeper into the circles of hell is the Zenefits model, same as open office hot desking, but desks are over subscribed to the tune of 30%.

There's no better way to spread company wide disease than hoteling. Unless your cleaners wipe down every desk every night.

As someone who worked in a crap-hole telemarketing firm where we called them "Communal Cubicals", this is one hundred percent a major issue. Company-wide Swine Flu happened.

Our office just converted to an open space design with fancy desks that elevate for standing or drop to sit. Although it's a small office, one of my coworkers already left (and refuses to communicate with any of the management except through his lawyer) and three others are in conversations with labour lawyers on constructive dismissal cases, while the remaining three are shopping their resumes and attending interviews. That means we could lose seven out of ten staff. It's definitely not all due to the open office space, but it was pretty much the last straw for most of them.

I was one of the few who got to keep their office during the demolition, I think mostly because it was written in my contract when I accepted this job. So although I, personally, don't think they look very efficient, I can relate that the staff in my company dispise the lack of privacy and general noise that results from working in an open office space.

Perhaps it's some sort of the Stockholm syndrome but I am now at the point where the open office noise has become white noise. And it is making me perform better. The constant chatter, ringtones, speakerphones, toilets flushing, coffee beans grinding, printers buzzing. There is a rhythm to it. It's a living organism of sound.

Who am I kidding, anyone need a Java/Kotlin back-end developer?

I think it's very much workplace-centric. The new manager who implemented this open office system came from a commodity sales background, so having all of these salespeople in the same room increased communication efficiency.

However, this workplace is not in sales. We are much more on the regulatory side, which means we're dealing with private information. Previously we did a pretty good job of maintaining information security by compartmentalizing issues to those individuals who needed to know.

Now, although still handcuffed by the same privacy legislation, we're expected to have these private conversations beside each other in a single room. How comfortable is the person on the phone going to feel about releasing private information if they can overhear everyone else's conversation in the background?

Again, I reiterate that these people aren't leaving because of the open office space concept. Removing all of the walls in the office just happened to also remove any reason to stick it out and try to work through the other problems.

I get the impression systemtest was making a general comment rather than responding to your comment specifically. The (highly amusing) lyrical waxing struck me as tongue-in-cheek – and not directly related to your particular workplace.

In any case, I wish you the best of luck. Your situation sounds horrible.

FYI - systemtest was using satire...

The crazy thing about open office is that after a while you forget how it was to work on something uninterrupted and being able to think something through.

You can hear toilets flushing? Yuck.

The worst part is hearing a toilet flush and watching a co-worker walk out seconds later.

Oh you haven't heard two flushes followed by the sound of someone dipping their hands into the bowl, followed by splashing and rubbing. And then a manager walks out and makes suspicious hand movements towards you before you skedaddle

Everyone poops. There's even a book about it, though most people read it as a toddler.

Now, if you frequently hear a flush without hearing the running water from the sink, that's a problem.

I think you missed the "seconds later" part. Even if they run water after flushing, they haven't done it more than a second or 2, and thus have barely gotten their hands wet. They haven't even come close to cleaning anything.

Shit, good point. Me no read good yesterday.

No, the worst part is that you're standing in the kitchen when this happens.

Hopefully, the other toilet noises are quieter.

Reminds me of the Naked Gun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPy2lwCsbaA

Some of the other noises I hear are microwaves, humidifiers, outside noise (when the window is open), the grunting printer and the constant gargle of the water cooler.

> one of my coworkers already left (and refuses to communicate with any of the management except through his lawyer) and three others are in conversations with labour lawyers on constructive dismissal cases

That's not normal - sounds like there must be a lot more going on than just the switch to an open office.

You're absolutely right. In another comment I stated:

> Again, I reiterate that these people aren't leaving because of the open office space concept. Removing all of the walls in the office just happened to also remove any reason to stick it out and try to work through the other problems.

There are definitely other issues involved. If there were not, I imagine an open office with this group would have actually been kind of fun, in a way, as we all get along really well and enjoy each other's company.

But if everyone is stressed due to significant structural reorganizations and process changes already? An open office concept just rubs salt into the wounds, IMHO.

When I got my tech job out of college in the 80's I was embarrassed because most of my friends in non-tech (especially finance) had offices with doors that closed. Sometimes nice wooden doors.

It took a lot of getting used to: constant chatter, loud talkers, ice chewers, mouth noises, farting, personal phone calls that were too personal... But I acclimated.

I continued to work in a 9'x9'x (x5' high) cube for 25+ years and the last company I worked for switched to an open floorplan for my last 3 years there.

IT WAS HELL. At least in my small cube I had some sense of privacy, but now everyone could see my screen, or see me having to deal with various biological discomforts, it just sucked. I'm glad I became a contractor 5 years ago because it is great to be out of that mess. Hopefully I'll never have to return.

Yes, I think that is the thing that people forget- most people aren't even asking for an office with a door the cube farm is fine. Or at least even some dividers to break up the noise so that the incidental noise/people around you are only there for you. Just seeing people walk past is intensely distracting to me, headphones don't fix that. Even if there was some more logical dividers so at least the people grouped together are in a joint space rather than a totally open space it works much better. When over 60% of conversation/noise/people moving around is not useful information it doesn't really help.

Cubicles are nice for getting work done, but they make for boring office photographs, and every company nowadays wants to be a hip place to work. Nobody wants to look like the Initech from Office Space.

"ice chewers, mouth noises, farting"

My kryptonite is nail clipping.

>ice chewers

Were they literally chewing ice or is this some idiom?

Literally would crunch ice from a big metal cup ALL DAY LONG (walk to the soda fountain in the break room and refill with ice every hour).

I encountered two people like this in my life. It would make me physically ill, like an allergy, but no one else around us complained so I tried to get over it and ended up just working in a lab.

I'm old enough now were it to happen again I'd flood every channel with complaints until we arrived at a compromise, but I was younger then.

> It would make me physically ill

This is a classic instance of misophonia. Certain sounds, especially sounds related to eating, generate disproportionate and irrational reactions, often (internally) physical. Anything from fear to disgust to anger, with the accompanying bodily state.

Some people love to literally crush ice in their mouth.

I cannot stand it. On top of just being an annoying sound, it makes me think about / feel pain, because it sounds like it really hurts.

I love it, but it does tend to freak out at least a few people. They claim I'll crack my teeth or something, but that's probably just a cover for how it makes them feel.

Yes, it could be bad for my teeth, but that's likely not why they're telling me about it. It bothers them more than it concerns them, or they'd stop telling me about it after a few times.

Ice chewing is a 'possible' symptom of anemia : https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficien...

I sat next to a literal ice-chewer.

I don't like pure open office setups, but I do enjoy bullpen style arrangements with a team of say 5 to 7 in the same shared space. It is a hard setup to get right though.

High wall cubes are fine too... Obviously a real office with a door would be ideal, but I think that door has closed at this point in time.

IMO the optimal arrangement for technical teams is small groups of people in shared offices, say ~4 per office.

What I've noticed is that a handful of people together in a space will typically work out issues like music vs. no music, lights on vs. off, blinds open vs. closed, etc. without a lot of trouble.

But there's a tipping point where it gets much harder. Put 20 people in an open office and suddenly everyone is wearing headphones and nobody is talking (except the people who are ALWAYS talking/yelling to each other) and it sucks.

I think as far back as the late 70s, "Peopleware" cited a bunch of studies that found that small shared offices with flexible policies on letting people move around (so people can self-organize either around their teams or with people they share space well with) was optimal. Sadly few offices seem to have adopted this.

> but I do enjoy bullpen style arrangements with a team of say 5 to 7 in the same shared space.

Worked in an office like that and agree, it worked pretty well. It's not always feasible to assign individual offices to people but 1-5 people works. I'd say 5 is even high, ideally it would be 2-3.

> but I think that door has closed at this point in time.

Well, I'd say working from home is like that? :-) Hopefully that's an option for more people. I am doing that now and it's pretty good, but the idea is that the whole team has to be remote, otherwise you don't want to be the odd one out.

I currently work in a bullpen with about 10-12 people. It works because we all work on the same thing, so collaborating or shooting the shit together is a good thing :)

If you organize bullpens around clumps of people who work together constantly, it makes more sense than doing it to an entire department or company. Though you should also have a quiet space per bullpen and meeting rooms for anything requiring cross-team collaboration or secretive stuff.

To be honest, 10-12 just sounds more like a small open office to me rather than a shared team space. When I think of a shared office, I think of maybe 2-4 people in a spacious private office. Even at 5 people you'd start to lose the benefits of the office rapidly.

Even if all 12 folks are on the same team, I'm sure it's possible to split them up into subspecialties or working groups. An unstructured blob of 12 people on a team doesn't sound that ideal either way, regardless of seating arrangements.

Depends on your home and family situation. I've been working from home for eight months, and my current situation is far from ideal due to young kids and not having a great space to isolate myself from them. I'm building a new detached garage that will include office space for myself, but that's not an option for many people that are in more expensive locales and/or lacking access to capital.

Still, looking back over the past eight months at all of the distractions from kids, I'm still dealing with less distractions (external, at least...) than my previous gig in an large open office environment.

I found that 2 people per office/bullpen works best. That way you're either talking to your colleague or you're working. Even with 3 people, there are situations where the other two are talking while you're trying to get work done.

>I do enjoy bullpen style arrangements with a team of say 5 to 7 in the same shared space.

The key being team -- you are next to people you are actively collaborating with on a day to day basis.

Last time I was there, Microsoft (Redmond campus) still had actual offices for all of their devs & QA (including contractors).

Haven't worked there in fifteen years, but still know plenty that do (including my spouse), and that's...not true across the board. The summary is: depends on the team.

Which is unfortunate because it's one of the many things I liked about working at Microsoft: they really seemed to take your productivity seriously when I worked there.

May not be for long. Microsoft is in the middle of a multi-year plan to renovate their campus to make it more open and collaborative.


Im a huge fan of the bullpen as well. You get the benefits of spontaneous conversation and collaboration, without the overwhelming anxiety that some of us feel in a crowded room. Its a solid compromise between collaboration and privacy.

Bullpens defined by 6 foot segmented movable whiteboard walls allow teams to grow and shrink while projects change, while keeping noise contained.

Individual quiet spaces are still needed for private meetings and client calls.


Surely an unpopular opinion but my previous job of many years had individual offices and my current job of 2 years is an open office for a couple thousand employees and it’s really not that bad. I was really worried when I started after hearing all the angst online but after a month I didn’t notice, I put in headphones if I need focus and it’s all good. I’m a software engineer at a level where my role involves a lot of collaboration so maybe that’s why I don’t mind? I notice others on my team do work away from their desks 90% of the time and I imagine it’s so they can hide and focus and the company provides locations for that. We would need 3x size of location(s) without open offices so I get it, also I’m it helps that the office has embraced “open” and tries to provide alternative space within the office, also grouping sales far away from engineering :)

The problem for some people is the open layout inhibits collaboration. Nobody wants to start talking because it disturbs others. Whereas if you could just walk into someone's office and close the door you'd feel free to yak away.

Open office is for 2 people 'collaborating' vigorously or trading weekend stories and the rest either bearing all that 'collaboration' or trying to drown it out with an earphone/headphone.

"Nobody wants to start talking because it disturbs others."

That's never stopped anyone in my office. The place is full of constant interruptions that an open office layout facilitates.

We have "pods" where each pod has 10 desks (with monitors/standing desks, etc), five along each of the two outside walls, with two long tables and TVs on wheels between the desk-walls.

We each have privacy (and our own seating), but the collaboration is always available and not overwhelming.

I dig it a lot more than the cube I had at my old job.

My PhD office was like that and it was pretty sweet.

Now I work in industry with a fully open office and yeah, it's a nightmare.

Exactly. A real discussion can often get loud but you can't really do that in an open layout. So collaboration becomes pretty shallow.

I work in an open office. The only thing that bothers me is people doing the "fake whisper", where they talk in a regular volume but with a strained whispery voice. Just talk normally, it's easier for both the listener to hear and for other people in the room to tune out.

I find it difficult to tune out normal talking (also, extra loud talking). I especially appreciate people who can talk normally while at the same time reducing their volume.

I'd say it encourages collaboration moreso. It's way easier to get somone's attention and get a quick clarification, although in this day and age I'd probably even Slack someone sitting next to me rather than talk.

For long discussions that's when you book a meeting room.

> I'd say it encourages collaboration moreso.

There's not a ton of research on this. But what's out there[1] suggests that open office spaces actually decrease collaboration.

[1] https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.201...

Except that in the open office structure, all the managers permanently book the conference rooms so they have an office.

> I’m a software engineer at a level where my role involves a lot of collaboration so maybe that’s why I don’t mind? I notice others on my team do work away from their desks 90% of the time and I imagine it’s so they can hide and focus and the company provides locations for that.

I think you hit the nail on the head - you're at a level where you have to communicate a lot. Devs that are more focused on production rather than coordination work away from their desks - that says to me that most people can't (or prefer not to) do their work at their work.

> We would need 3x size of location(s) without open offices so I get it

This always comes up in these discussions. It's not a binary "everyone working at one long table" versus "everyone in their own hotel room". It's a continuum. There are options that allow each worker to have their own space at rather low cost. I don't buy the cost argument or the space argument.

I've been inside designs where workers have their own doors for a cost of a few thousand dollars and taking up very little extra space. Spread that out over ten years and you're talking a cost of $400 a year - if they don't have the money for that, you shouldn't be working there, because they don't have the money to pay you. Absolutely trivial relative to a six-figure salary.

> We would need 3x size of location(s) without open offices

Are you contrasting open offices with individual offices? Cubicles are barely larger than the desk/chair itself, I could believe maybe a 10%~ loss from cubicles due to inefficiency but not much more.

Imagine this post going back into the 90s when people were suffering in cube farms, and find out that in the future people would harken back to those days.

Yea, we have an open office which is really just cubicals with low walls such that you can see someone's head across the partition. It would be inconceivable for our company to build out offices but I've argued that high-walled cubes would be better for concentration.

"I’m a software engineer at a level where my role involves a lot of collaboration so maybe that’s why I don’t mind? "

do you really collaborate any better in an open office? I can't have any real conversation in such an environment because it's just too loud.

> I notice others on my team do work away from their desks 90% of the time and I imagine it’s so they can hide and focus and the company provides locations for that. We would need 3x size of location(s) without open offices so I get it

I don't understand. If it provides space for 90% of your team to work away from their desks then surely that's enough space just to have provided them with private offices in the first place? (Plus open spaces for collaboration the 10% of the time that they want it)

What I’ve realized is that you actually need more space in an open setting.

You will need a lot of rooms and furniture specifically placed and designed for ad-hoc collaboration.

An open space with just desks crammed in is awful, but if the above is catered for it’s awesome and I don’t want to work any other way.

It takes a lot of room and smart planning though.

Previous place we had a bunch of teams in mobs in an open space with just enough ad-hoc rooms and furniture made up of sound-dampeners.

Great experience.

I wonder if it's a cultural Europe/US thing?

I would say in Europe open offices are pretty normal, and people do not hate them that much.

I have worked in a classic "cubicle" environment in the US for a few months, and I cannot say it affected my productivity significantly.

I hate them, and I'm from Europe.

I also don't really see them being "the norm" - the software development company I work for since 8 years puts 2-4 people into an office, and that's it. We had some experiments with up to 8 or 10 in a room, but everyone really hated it, and management listened. We just moved into a larger building, but we still have only 4 desks maximum per office.

But then, maybe I'm just lucky. Our company staying away from open offices because of abysmal feedback by employees is definitely one of the reasons why I've been there for almost a decade now.

I hate them, but I'm pretty sure I'm part of a vocal minority and I suspect we're finding surveys to cite that are biased, or we're picking the ones that agree with what we want.

Employers do need to control costs like real estate, but they also have an interest in keeping employees productive. So they do surveys and listen to employees and I suspect the reality is people aren't complaining as much as we think they are.

Also, a lot of people who can't stand the noise already do work remotely. They would still be in the broader surveys complaining, but employers wouldn't hear them on internal surveys.

> I wonder if it's a cultural Europe/US thing?

It might be all the extra vacay in Europe. Noise is a stressor, and getting away from it lets that stress diminish.

> I have worked in a classic "cubicle" environment in the US for a few months, and I cannot say it affected my productivity significantly.

Most people filter that stuff out effectively, but some people don't, and if you're like me and your brain amps it up, it can be pretty hellish.

I think Europeans are quieter

When I had to work in an open office, I likewise used noise-cancelling headphones to isolate myself, but that didn't help with the visual distraction of all of the humans wriggling about in the distance and periphery. I probably would have done better if I could have faced a wall or other barrier, but I didn't have that option at the time. It was rough, I had to quit after a few unproductive months.

> We would need 3x size of location(s) without open offices so I get it

Assuming they all need to be in the office every day to collaborate..

I always found it interesting that "hating open office spaces" is one of those sort of biased-HN things, similar to general dislike/distrust of popular social media platforms. Virtually every parent comment on the thread is along the lines of "I don't like open offices", which is obviously fine, seeing as how to each their own. However, I for one LOVE open offices. The fact that I can see what's going on, feel the vibe of the office, distract myself for a bit should I so choose to do so. Or even if I want to put my headphones in and turn the music all the way up, I have the option and I really enjoy it. To me, the open style makes the office feel like more of a community, as opposed to "an office" (similar to cubicles, offices, and mini-cubicles) and I absolutely enjoy that.

Side note: I'd be curious to see responses for office preference (open, or not open) distributed by age.

My first introduction to an open office layout was when I was 26 working in the Bay Area. For me, it was awful. I was surrounded by people who weren't working on anything I was working on and had no connection to what I was doing. It felt like everyone was watching everything I did, and I could never get any work done. To top it off, part way through my time there, they brought in a customer support team and placed them right next to me. They then started to put a counter of the number of customers who were subscribed to our service and would start cheering when it hit arbitrary numbers; the CEO would come in from time to time, sometimes completely unannounced to us... The people were nice, and the product was decent, but the distractions were very hard to get any work done.

I eventually moved on and now have a cubical. I find myself able to be much more productive than ever before. Part of it is because I don't feel like someone is staring at my back and checking my monitor all the time. Another part is that it is vastly quieter than the previous work place despite having literally 100x what the last place had (from startup to Fortune 100 company). If I want to communicate or collaborate with others, I can hit them up at their cubes, and there can be little group discussions in the hallways between cubes without being major distractions to others. I don't get the insane ear fatigue I'd get with headphones in 6+ hours a day like before, too. Needless to say, based on my experiences, I personally prefer cubes to an OO layout.

I'm 27. I'd love open office spaces if my job never required writing complex code. But I find it all but literally impossible to do so in an open office, which means that I can't both (1) do my work exclusively at my desk during work hours and (2) actually get all of my work done.

In practice, I've adjusted my schedule to something like the "double schedule" that PG describes in [0]. When I'm at the office, I spend my time on meetings, planning, managerial stuff, spreadsheet/dashboard work, and simple coding. Then I go home and do all of my complex coding remotely til 1am or so. Obviously this isn't great for work-life balance, and it's terrible for my sleep schedule when I need to be at 8am meetings. But I think a compressed version of this setup (e.g., if I could reasonably only be physically present in the office 4 hours a day) would be pretty much optimal for me, including the open office space.

[0] http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html

Your schedule sounds like that of an indentured servant. Seriously, you regularly start work at 8am and end at 1am? What kind of life is that? As someone who's fallen into a rabbit hole where that sort of madness gets normalized, let me remind you: it's not normal. Find somewhere else unless you're making millions?

If I'm making millions, I'm doing it very gradually. And I am looking for other opportunities. But I should clarify that I don't work from 8am to 1am every day - I probably have one 8am meeting a week on average, and the late nights ebb and flow with the projects I'm working on. The rest of the time, I work roughly 9:30 to 5. I still work more hours than I'd like, and the occasional time-sensitive, coding-heavy projects are brutal, but it's not as bleak as my last comment suggests.

I sincerely appreciate the reminder though - thank you.

I also prefer open offices. I see software engineering as a very social activity. It's also nice to be able to overhear certain discussions and questions.

When I read other people's complaints, it seems that most of them are not properly placed next to the people they need to work with.

Personal calls should be taken in a private room. Chatting should be done at the coffee corner. (Team)work is done at the open office, the rest should be taken outside.

If you really need to concentrate on a hard topic, there are headphones that either provide you quietness, or music. Or what I knew some people did was to work a day at home, to tackle something difficult. But the drawback is that they have a hard time staying in the loop, and not as easily accessible to others to ask questions (Hey, can you come take a look at this).

But like everything, it has its drawbacks. And it seems it's a very personal preference, and might also depend on your team/project structure.

I'm 39.

>Personal calls should be taken in a private room.

That's not always practical. This is less true of developers but, for some people, talking on the phone or at least being on conference jobs describes a pretty good chunk of their days.

My jobs have ranged from heads-down engineering work to constant meetings, phone calls, and impromptu chats. For all of them, I much prefer a private office or at least a private cube. I can't wear headphones for an extended period of time due to physical pain (yes, I've tried lots of form factors; no, none of them have helped), so open office plans where the "solution" is to just tell people to wear headphones and blast music are nonstarters for me.

I also hate with a passion having people walking around behind me where I can't see them. It's not a question of having things on my screen that I don't want people to see; it's a question of feeling safe and not being constantly startled/on edge.

I'm 34.

> I can't wear headphones for an extended period of time due to physical pain

Well it's comforting to see someone else has this issue. I find this to be the only part about 'open' offices that I personally take issue with at the moment. I really can't continually wear headphones and it does not seem unreasonable for software developers to be able to code in a relatively quiet environment

Preference for semi-open team spaces, but not as far as offices-for-all. If the choice was binary, I'd choose open.

My team has an open area, but it is semi-closed off from other teams. There were two desks which would have had their monitors in full view of others walking by, so we rearranged our area and put up semi-high walls to combat this. Much to the disdain of other management who feared "others will follow suit." Spoiler: They did.

37, US, Sr. Manager level in Quality Engineering. The majority of my meetings I'd rather not have in front of my team (ICs, Leads, Managers, etc). Partly because I have to talk a lot, partly because people ended up asking questions about things they overheard which weren't concrete yet. If something is changing, if I am working through collaboration, or there is a disagreement, I don't want to distract my team with that fluid information. I mention this as it puts me squarely in the position of a manager who spends a lot of time in a room but wants his team in a semi-open area. All of my bosses have offices and most of my peers have offices. I chose to bypass my office to be close to my team. That said, I am in an unreservable room for 3-5 hours a day.

As a side note for this transition, I used the department budget to buy everyone a pair of QC35s. I budget a pair for every new hire as well. It is a bandage over root cause _and_ created conflict across other groups, but I gladly took the heat. Soon that budget will come out of the New Hire Resources pool!

I hate open offices and miss the days when I had my own office with a door.

I'm 37.

How do you communicate with your team members? For me it has always been: turn around and ask. Or if they look busy, wait until they get a coffee before interrupting.

I never worked in my own office (I'm 39), so I'm really curious what you prefer: phone, email, knocking on someones door?

Also, how do you stay in the loop about what's going on?

Not OP, but I am lucky enough to have my own office with a door. Everyone in my group just leaves their door open if they are available to be interrupted. I communicate entirely by email and in person. If it's a quick thing that I only need a verbal response to, I'll usually walk over and see if the person is in their office (w/ door open) first. If not, or if I need something more substantial, I'll email.

On the flip side, most of the day my door is open, and I don't mind occasionally being interrupted to help someone else with whatever they need. If I have a conference call or I just want to really focus on something, I close my door and it's unlikely anyone will knock or otherwise disturb me unless the building is on fire.

I have an office with a door and I love it (but no windows to the outside, unfortunately). If I'm on a call or just want to be able to work uninterrupted for a while, I'll close it, otherwise I'll leave it ajar so colleagues can stop by if they have a question or want a quick chat. I work in product R&D; the building also has a cube farm area for IT and HR and business folks, so I'm really happy I'm not there.

My team is distributed around the world so my team collaboration is all virtual, although my management and some of my [internal] customers are located in the same building as me so they can stop by my office or vice versa if we have things to work on together.

> I never worked in my own office

It's a wonderful, comfortable way to work. Your ability to concentrate is respected. It's overall a much quieter environment conducive to solving problems. You'll loop in yourself during lunch, at meetings, getting coffee, passing by other offices/being passed by, etc.

Not OP, but Slack/IRC/IM of some kind is the answer to most of your questions. I've bounced around between shared office, private office, cubicle, private bullpen, and open office my whole career, and by far the least productive I ever was was in the open office. In all other situations, my team communicated mostly over instant messaging, or if it was really important, by wandering down to their office and knocking.

Since most team communication happens over IM, it's easy for anyone to read back on what they missed. Most teams also do daily stand-ups or other meetings, to catch the larger group up on anything important.

>by wandering down to their office and knocking

FWIW, all the places I've worked that had offices in whole or in part had a culture in which everyone left their door open unless they didn't want to be disturbed for some reason. Collaborating was never an issue. If everyone always kept their doors shut, I think I would have found that hindered communication, esp. pre-IM.

Slack and email. Occasionally I'll physically go ask someone something, but that's rare outside of meetings.

I've been in some open office situations where it was so loud that you couldn't even talk to each other about, ya know, work stuff. It was like living in a call center. Conference rooms were overbooked and the situation was simply untenable.

However, I'm currently in an office where they went to great lengths to absorb sound and space everyone out to create an area that at most times is actually quiet except for the few times we chat with each other.

So in this instance I don't mind it, I mostly chill on the nearby couch anyway. So I can see how some would love it, and others would hate it. It really does matter how the office is architected and the density of people.

40 years old. It probably has a lot to do with not liking change, if I start and its an open office plan, it is what it is. If they transition to open office after I start then I think it depends on how the open office plan is pitched. If its pitched as making everyone more productive then I would expect all of the executives to also be out in the open. If they are all still in offices I know it was just to cut costs. Worked at a very large company where this happened and all the executives (200+ of them) kept their offices.

I worked at a small company with 5 total devs and we all sat back to back in a large office and it was pretty good. So I guess the answer is it depends.

I work from home now and this is the best office plan. Slack and other communication tools seem to render the point of having a brick and mortar office moot for a lot of programming work. My team is spread all over the world. Mileage is of course going to vary based on the job.

To me, it all just depends too much on other factors in the office. I can't lambast an office's open design until I know what's replacing it. And I think this is why we fixate so much on hating open offices (easy) instead of agreeing on the optimal office (hard).

For example, I've worked at places that seem to be an HN ideal (everyone gets their own room) that range from perfection to the energy level of a mausoleum. And office cultures that range from collaborative to eerie isolation. And in the latter cases, I've pined for some walls to be broken down and some spaces to be shared.

I'm also someone pretty picky on where I get work done. In uni, when it came time to study, I'd shop between three places to see which had an energy I liked the most. I was more likely to pick a bustling Starbucks with couches, so open offices themselves aren't a deal breaker. I need more info than that to eliminate a specific case.

I'm 30.

25 years old, only worked in non-open office (cubicles) when I was an intern in college. Since then have only worked in open space. I love the ability to just put on headphones and grind away most of the day, but my coworkers that I work with most often are still literally just a chair pivot away. We turn around, collaborate on how to solve a problem together, then turn back to our computers and execute.

I think it's important to work on noise reduction through office design and offering quiet isolated spaces to work for people that need that environment. But overall I'm a big fan.

42. Been in an open office for about 15 years now. I think there are pros and cons but I prefer private office or a cubical with some privacy. I agree with you that OO enables communication, absolutely the case. I can see if people are here I need to talk to, walk over and talk to them in person (which I prefer). However it's a mixed bag, if you are the person being interrupted all the time to talk about something. There's an expensive context switch.

I don't really care that much though I'd certainly take a private office if offered. (Says someone who mostly works from home.) I will note that I read a very emotional spiel somewhere not that long ago from someone who worked in a traditional cubicle environment and they hated how isolating the space was.

I wonder if there is any correlation in preference vs introversion/extroversion aspects of the person?

Open offices aren't about worker happiness or efficiency. They're about decreasing costs.

"Penny wise and pound foolish."

Which is to say if you're paying a developer $70K+/year (+taxes/benefits), and you're skimping on a $2K one time cost cubicle, even if that loss results in increased turnover ($$$), reduced morale ($$$), or reduced productively ($$$) then that's an irrational decision.

Employers should consider a "1-2%" per-employee per year "morale fund." If you're paying someone $70K/year the least you could manage is $700-1400 to keep them sweet, it is just good business. Better equipment, software to make them more productive, a nicer chair, whatever.

But I've come to realize that managers rarely make decisions for purely rational reasons. The prestige and internal politics often play a larger role than pure costing.

They're not skimping $2k one time cost on a cubicle. They're skimping on the recurring cost in rent and maintenance on a large facility in which to place that cubicle, plus the cost of that cubicle. My wife was an office manager that worked with a couple startups through expansions, and the costs of office space and office equipment is actually quite a bit higher than you might think.

That said, I still think it's generally a foolish thing to do for many companies and I personally despise open offices. I've recently transitioned to being fully remote, and a hatred of the open office plan was a good part of what pushed me in that direction.

I already have a designated desk area against the wall, we're talking about adding a footprint for a couple of 5cm thick walls which is already my personal space anyway, the only difference is actually enclosing it instead of letting people wander into it because the office is already full.

There is also a cost, particularly in terms of management attention, to arranging offices or cubicles that is really painless if you have an open office. When you add a person, you with an open office you just say: plug your computer in over there. So when I see an open office I think of a company that is expecting a high turn over of employees. It makes sense for a startup, that may be moving to another building in six months anyway. When a company is more established I question it.

Not even that, because reduced productivity (and iirc Facebook reported having to pay their employees 1.5x just because of the bad working environment). It's so that managers look cool when strolling through their workforce, it looks good and hip on recruitment webpages, etc.

> Destroying your employees' productivity for a pic.

There are much easier ways to decrease costs. My experience is that they're done to visually and physically distinguish between office class hierarchies and ranks.

Exactly -- theres seems to be little appreciation in the the thread that it's a simple trade off. Private offices may generally be preferable but exactly at what price?

Would you people not prefer to see the difference in their wage packet? A company that chooses open offices can offer higher wages it doesn't mean they don't care about their employees productivity.

Serious question: if it's about decreasing costs, why not get rid of the workers?

Because the workers are willing to work in a reduced cost workspace.

Unless they are willing to work for free, you can decrease costs by getting rid of them.

Presumably, the demand the business sees justifies the cost of workers. Of course, layoffs happen.

I would like to see the statistics on absenteeism and sick days after such a change. My work just switched to open plan, and anecdotally this last flu season was one of the worst I’ve seen in 3.5 years at this place, with nearly every person in a room of approx. 120-150 (all open plan) getting ill at some point. I think probably nobody stopped to think of that negative impact of open seating, especially on people with special immune system needs.

Not sure if you are thinking about sick leave because open-space office plans are worse for spreading contagious diseases, or because people are simply less motivated to come into the office if they feel a little weak or tired. I would not be surprised at all if the latter actually has more impact.

people are simply less motivated to come into the office if they feel a little weak or tired

Au contraire, as the open office plan is usually paired with the "all-in-one-bucket-PTO" plan. So if you take a sick day, it comes out of your vacation/holiday time. Ergo, employees are even more motivated to come in while feeling a little puny. Otherwise the kids are going to be pissed when you have to trim a day off that trip to Disney World.

Wait, what? No place I've seen (and all have been open office) has taken sick leave out of vacation PTO. That's crazy. Employees have to draw the line somewhere.

Did the company give you a bucket of days and say, "use it however you want!"? Then they're taking sick days out of vacation days. I'm guessing that you're either not in the U. S., or you've just never looked at it that way before. The last two places I've worked full-time work that way.

Currently at Facebook as an FTE I get a sizable number of vacation days which is the “use it however you want” bucket. Off the top of my head, sick days, jury duty, parental leave, and taking time off to care for a sick family member all do not count towards that vacation bucket.

My last workplace (Asana) has untracked PTO. All the places I got offers from (established companies) had either untracked PTO or seperate vacation and sick leave.

All-in-one-bucket PTO plans are extremely common including at large tech companies. I think it's a bad system but it's increasingly the norm outside of "unlimited" PTO plans. It's definitely not some weird outlier.

When I first started working after college, I was briefly in a cubicle-like thing. I hated it. I felt isolated during a big transition point in my life. But it wasn't long before we switched to an open office plan, and it was fantastic. Loved it for the next couple years I was there, because it felt like I was part of a team -- more ad-hoc conversations, and yes, people talking about their weekends (that can be a good thing). We still got plenty done.

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm working remotely and loving it. In fact, when I do work in coffee shops or something, I hate it, because I struggle to focus and get things done (unlike most, I straight-up can't listen to music and code at the same time, so headphones are out).

So maybe it just depends on where you are in your career?

There are certain advantages to being in an open office, under the right set of conditions:

1- teams sit together

2- people who need to be on their phones (aka sales) are in a different office

3- buffer spaces between communal areas (kitchen, lounge) and desks

4- people respect each other

I've been in an open office that followed those rules, and it was actually pretty great, because people helped each other a lot more; a bit like open-ended pair programming if you wanted it.

I've also been in an open office that violated all of those rules, and absolutely detested it. Especially that one person who played their radio out loud for the team to "enjoy" and sprayed air freshener everywhere, and the sales people ringing a bell whenever a sale landed, and the kitchen microwaves constantly going off, and and and... it was a minor hell.

> 2- people who need to be on their phones (aka sales) are in a different office

I'd like that

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