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[dupe] Open-plan offices reduce face-to-face interactions (2018) (bps.org.uk)
86 points by matrix 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

Wasn't discussed here very long this time - it's disappeared completely from HN.

I am not surprised. I was working in an open-plan office for a few years, and I also preferred talking to colleagues sitting only a few meters away via mail. It's incredibly stressful to talk to a person face-to-face knowing that everyone on the team listens to the conversation. Not only do you have to constantly weight and evaluate your sentences, you also have the constant feeling that you are disturbing other team members just by talking. On the other hand, you also don't want to drag a person into another room for privacy if you just want some quick update on something. Some team members might use noise-cancelling headphones to keep out the typing noise and occasional conversation, but these headphones are an additional barrier for face-to-face talk. You don't want to snap them out of a musical experience, and getting a person with noise-cancelling headphones to notice you are standing behind him/her might get very awkward.

If you are convinced that stuffing people into a room with little to no privacy leads to increased social interaction, you should start riding public transit during rush hour.

Totally. At my last $dayjob, we had a group chat for the room, where we would type stuff instead of saying it out loud. This way, conversation only flowed between people who were willing to participate at the moment.

(It didn't work perfectly. Typing is silent, but laughing at what you just read isn't.)

Typing isn't always silent; not everyone has quiet keyboards.

>It's incredibly stressful to talk to a person face-to-face knowing that everyone on the team listens to the conversation. Not only do you have to constantly weight and evaluate your sentences, you also have the constant feeling that you are disturbing other team members just by talking

Fortunately I don't have this physiological barrier. I don't care if everyone on the team listens to the conversation.

You are probably also oblivious to the very real consequences of other people knowing various things or having partial information, etc.

It's stressful because it has consequences. If you don't find it stressful, you probably are failing to connect the dots and see that x outcome is related to y behavior.

Of course there is consequences for everything, I just embrace it. Having to be stressful because of this is in itself stressfull.

Do you also do this when the 'conversation' is just you making statements about yourself that serve no purpose other than providing you with the pleasure of making statements about yourself?

Not sure what you are talking about ? The poster I'm replying to is about face-to-face conversation with other teammate

Apologies for being a bit snarky, but I found your comment to not really add much to the conversation because it just pointed out that you do not personally suffer from the problems that the person you responded to does.

That, combined with the fact that you don't seem to care how your open-office talk might affect others, reminded me of the various "that guys/gals" that I've encountered in my open-office experiences. They'd regularly annoy or interrupt everyone else in the room by having no consideration, self-awareness and/or sensitivity, and usually they'd do so for the worst reason: talking about themselves. The inane shit they were up to in the weekend, or the funny YouTube video that you just have to watch awkwardly.

But again, my apologies for projecting that on you, because obviously I have no idea if any of this applies. It just reminded me of something that ruined open-offices for me.

>They'd regularly annoy or interrupt everyone else in the room by having no consideration, self-awareness and/or sensitivity, and usually they'd do so for the worst reason: talking about themselves

I understand that, the trick for me is to not let myself to be negatively affected by that, in other words, I make myself to filter out/ignore all those stuff. Its a useful skill to have.

I'm happy for you that that works (really), but I'm probably one of many people, perhaps even the majority, who lacks that skill, and who is significantly affected by 'those guys/gals' to the point of giving up office life for the most part (because I can afford to, though).

I strongly believe that respecting other people means taking into account that they might not possess my particular skill-set, and especially when said respect doesn't cost me much effort but causes others significant stress/discomfort, not showing this respect is just being an asshole.

(Of course, that's assuming that I'm aware of all this. The other side of this 'transaction' is for the other to express whatever problem they might have with my behavior)

I'm probably an outlier, but I love open-office. I've worked in all the different environments over the last 25 years, single office, shared office, cubicle, remote and open office. Open office was weird at first, but I find it much more social. I don't get distracted by noise or movement so that could be a big factor, so I can code without any problems.

The least social for me was the single office. I would stay in there all day long and I would have privacy but I would literally not see anyone. The worst was a cubicle where it had none of the privacy (couldn't eat fish or fart or have private conversations) but you still have the lack of social interaction.

You truly are an outlier. I immediately started assuming that you might be in a more right-brain role, but realized my mistake when I saw your comment about coding. You're clearly better than I am at focusing...

I can _code_ while surrounded by interruptions and distractions (I can put on headphones and face the least busy part of the office so I'm not _too_ distracted most of the time), but I can't _learn_ without some semblance of focus. I suspect that the open-office cheerleaders are mostly people who do the sort of work that you or I might be able to do on autopilot and never try to tackle any sort of real challenge.


People that don't need to concentrate or that are not easely disturbed have no problem with it.

I dislike it with passion and open office together with no parking spaces close by later than 08:15 made me look for a new job. These everyday problems are the most annoying.

I disagree with the opinions of this comment, but I'm glad you made your opinion and your experience heard. Even when for most people an open office works worse, for some people it is preferable

new people: please don't down vote people just because you disagree.

Chiming in to say I also disagree with the opinion and to make the same request to downvotes==disagree button.

I would like to ask another question though, how does the community feel about people who talk to themselves when they're focused?

I find myself doing that at home a lot when working and I really do perform focused tasks significantly better.

"Aha, this is a bit stupid"

"So, if I move this here it'll be more orthogonal"

"Ah jeez, why did I choose that type!"

I feel like doing this in any kind of open setting is really not ideal but it takes conscious effort to avoid doing it.

I feel like if people are bothered by people talking nearby, they're going to be using headphones anyway. Honestly, you do you. Talking to yourself is far less disruptive than say, somebody tapping a pen consistently for extended periods of time or co-workers holding a loud conversation nearby or just even a mechanical keyboard.

On that note, sometimes I do wonder what my colleagues think, since I sometimes do the talking myself through a task as well.

> Talking to yourself is far less disruptive than say...

Still, talking to yourself IS disruptive. Especially depending on your volume.

>they're going to be using headphones anyway

Unless you are playing music at a level that damages your hearing, headphones do not cancel out voices.

> Honestly, you do you.

Agreed. And I will complain about unnecessary noises invading my space.

You and me both. I constantly berate myself outloud and hate myself for what it must do to my neighbor who's too considerate to say something, or not considerate enough to bitch to my manager so I could turn this into a remote job.

Please, stop hating and berating yourself. Or do it in silence :).

> I would like to ask another question though, how does the community feel about people who talk to themselves when they're focused?

There's a special place in hell for those people :). Even worse when they are whispering or mumbling.

It's really the same as talking on the phone: my brain is hijacked because it only has a side of the conversation.

Well, that's not nice.

it happens automatically once I'm above 80% invested into something, so in order to be safe I don't let myself get any more than 50% invested because I'm worried about disturbing others.

I'm not sure what I can do here, I have to be in an office which has no sound barriers of any kind between anyone.

Well, you can try the rubber band thing around the wrist for reinforcements.

What rubber band thing?

I too prefer open office, if I don't want to see my coworker, why would I even go to the office, I could just work remote.

>I don't get distracted by noise or movement so that could be a big factor, so I can code without any problems

Same here.

I think better alternative is to allow both option, allow employee to work remove if they prefer not to see their coworker.

>I don't get distracted by noise or movement so that could be a big factor, so I can code without any problems

I agree that this is the biggest factor. If it didn't bother me, I would probably enjoy an open office.

> I think better alternative is to allow both option, allow employee to work remove if they prefer not to see their coworker.

I yearn for the day my workplace opens up this option.

Some people can work even though they get interrupted and disturbed all day, others are very averse to being distracted and try to reach deep work or get in the zone. The problem with an open office is the first group.

The effect also depends on the type of work you are currently doing. Some work requires more concentration and is more easily disturbed. Other, more routine work, can tolerate more noise (be it audible or visual.)

And some people don't want to work any more than they absolutely have to, and can't understand why anyone would want to be able to concentrate.

True example of the above:

I had been given a task by my manager, in such a way that my coworkers could hear that it was something important I had to get done ASAP.

Half an hour later, I'm heads down working, with earphones in. Very obviously coding. Coworker taps me on the shoulder. "Yes?" "Why aren't you chatting with us?"

I'd like to say I made some clever remark, but at the time I was speechless.

(Please note that I do engage in normal small talk at other times. )

I absolutely detest open offices but what' with downvoting disagreeing opinions? This comment was gray when I typed this comment

I doubt you’re an outlier. I think that open offices have a place, but are over-used especially in the Bay Area tech scene, so the opponents are particularly vocal. I’ve worked at a few open offices for fairly small companies and almost without exception I loved the dynamic.

The open office format has increased our face-time 10 fold.

Not sure what the point of doing studies on this is? It's incredibly cultural and business/job specific.

Because so many people HATE the open office?

HN crowd hates open-office. So, mostly devs?

Someone commission a study on developers take on open office vs other roles, STAT!

Yes, good clarification. Likely mostly devs. It really depends on the kind of work you do.

But, when it matters, it REALLY matters.

I found open offices to be an incredibly alienating experience, felt about as personal as a a cubicle since everyone is pretty much using headphones and "deep working" and you can't really make much noise since you're disturbing an entire org if you are.

My favorite experience was working on a team where the open office was essentially a large office for about 6 people only. That felt great since there was a more communal vibe and I had sufficient personal space. We had a couch, a table with a chessboard and some people brought snacks over.

The latter one you describe is basically what I had in grad school and it worked really well.

The former is what I have in industry and if I forget my noise cancelling headphones I might as well go home.

Not surprising in hindsight. See lqet's and kylia's comments elsewhere on this thread for first-hand accounts.[a]

In my view, Steve Jobs had the right idea when he helped design Pixar's headquarters: plenty of private and semi-private working areas interconnected by multiple larger, more central, common areas through which everyone would have to travel throughout the day, increasing the odds of spontaneous interaction and collaboration with colleagues from different areas:



Think of it as "privacy when you need it, sprinkled with spontaneous interaction throughout the day, when you take breaks from private work."


[a] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19683405 / https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19683419

Honestly this article comes as no surprise.

I work for a company that not only has an open plan office, but no assigned seating either. It's honestly the worst, mostly because I like to have my own environment at work. I can't bring in my keyboard or any of my other stuff, and as corny as it is i can't even bring in photos to keep at my desk since there's no assigned seating!

As much as i like open spaces, i miss at /least/ having my own desk.

No assigned desks with a badly implemented "flat structure" is a special kind of hell. You're a nobody with nowhere to go. No title, no fixed desk, no fixed chair, no identity. Developer #13 sitting at desk #21.

One of my previous employers had an open-plan office, and after a management change introduced mandatory hotdesking. You had to move desks every day -- management checked every morning and wrote people up if they sat at the same desk for two consecutive days.

Then they introduced a mandatory uniform and a complete ban on personal items -- all the Wallace and Gromit coffee mugs, the photos of family disappeared overnight.

It's the most sterile, depersonalising, demotivating work environment I've ever encountered.

Incidentally, BPS covered this in another article... "Why it’s important that employers let staff personalise their workspaces" -- https://digest.bps.org.uk/2015/03/27/why-its-important-that-... . It's well worth a read.

Did you work in a Terry Gilliam movie? Was this in the USA? It sounds dystopic.

UK actually. A FTSE-listed company.

I've mentioned some of the other stuff they did in my other comments so I won't dig it up here. I left at the end of last year and at that point I was doing the job of four engineers (who'd all left).

These days, I sleep through the night (first time in about five years), I've massively cut down my coffee intake (from four cups of espresso-strength to a couple of lattes), and I'm working on my own projects in the evenings again. I still have about a stone in weight (put on through comfort-eating) to burn off, but I'm working on that.

Our negotiating position as engineers is way too good to put up with shit like this. I have savings precisely so that I can walk off the job the instant hot desking is announced.

Now that i'm finally moving up the engineering ranks, i'm starting to stockpile money too. As soon as i get through these cert exams over the next month, it's game on.

Give me my desk!! my keyboard!! my monitors!!

This ensures that you know you're nothing more than a lineworker in a digital factory.

Open offices are the first half of that, and open desks are the other half.

Who does it benefit? The company in cost per person of space. Any other metric applied shows gross inadequacies of open offices.

Yeah, they market it as "even the CEO doesn't have his own office!" Oh, cool, he works from home or is travelling the whole time and doesn't need one.

Maybe i'm just being a baby, but a work desk doesn't feel complete without at least a picture of my dog at it, haha.

Hm, I would definitely miss second and third monitors and docking station for my laptop..

Not having assigned seats is frankly just bizarre, and doesn’t seem to have any relation at all to open office. Individual closed offices with no assigned seats would be just as bizarre.

I'm not saying you're able to do this at your current workplace, but if I was stuck in this type of situation, I would heavily advocate for the ability to work from home at least 1-2 days a week.

Having worked in an open office like environment before, it was the only way I was able to get a lot of stuff done.

These types of open offices are a deathknell for productivity and great for people who use work as their only social outlet.

Hmm... there should be digital photo frames, and a stapler with LEDs inside. When you “check in” to your station, your phone activated, your family photos go on the photo frames, and the stapler lights up in your preferred color.

Benefits Of Open Office Not Extended To CEO - https://local.theonion.com/benefits-of-open-office-not-exten...

I agree that open-plan offices drive the opposite behavior than they are touted to. They make it impossible to have impromptu discussions that have any sensitive aspect to them. I have a lot of those conversations.

I work from home or a coffee shop down the street from my office as a result and almost never even see my coworkers faces.

But the main driver of open-plan offices is usually density / cost. I suspect many of the cost savings of the most recent wave of office design are coming from employees who no longer come into the office because the conditions aren’t conducive to working.

We use MS Teams to chat with people at the next desk. Especially since some uses headphones and you would have to scream.

How much space does a indoor wall take in comparation to the space between the desk there are anyway in open offices.

You have to put cabinets on the floor since shelves can't hang on walls.

Whiteboards are on feet in the "hallway".

I have never been in an open office and though "Jeez look at all the space they save by not having walls" if you would compare to 6 or 4 person offices.

So imagine a single 6x12 table. You can comfortably seat 8 people at a table that size. Even if you packed those people into 4 person offices, 2 offices take more space than a big table in the middle of a floor that shares walking space with the other stuff around it.

They’re awful for productivity, but they definitely are cheaper.

>They make it impossible to have impromptu discussions that have any sensitive aspect to them.

The only place I ever worked with an open floor plan, I worked as a security analyst/engineer. Behind me were contracted programmers from various outsourcing firms who could see my screens and hear my conversations when discussing sensitive security issues.

So much time was wasted trying to find an empty conference room for an impromptu discussion about an active security incident.

My favorite work environment I was initially skeptical about.

I had done in the past cubicles, private office, shared office, etc - but this one was somewhat unique because the company that I was hired on with didn't have any other place to put me and the rest of the "new guys".

So they stuck us in their small conference room. Which had terrible air flow (aka - none).

We had this long table-like desk; there were four of us, two on each side. We all had a dual-monitor setup with regular PCs - nothing fancy there.

It was crazy hot in there - we called it "the oven".

But we made it ours while we had it. Our team lead played a crazy mix of music from spotify. We could easily collaborate as needed. We could keep the lights off and not be bothered with that.

Eventually we got a portable AC unit to help with the comfort of the room.

We got a lot of great work done in that room. About a year later, we moved offices, and the owners decided to go "open floorplan" (we later learned this was all a scheme towards selling the company). Things changed greatly. While our entire team could be together (we had a couple other members of the team who were outside of the oven at the old office) at one "desk" - the open office didn't facilitate talking amongst ourselves as much or collaboration, because sales was nearby, etc.

Most of the time, we listened to music or whatnot on headphones, and just used Hipchat and email to communicate.

I wish this happened in my office. Instead there are face-to-face conversations at desks all the time, and those looking to do quiet focused work are basically out of luck.

Why are open plans (among software engineers) so common in the industry? Is it really that most software engineers like them?

People feel more stress when they feel watched. Stress increases productivity in the short term, before you burn out. But who cares about that right?

The trick is to just don't care, they want to watch go ahead watch. For example, I browse youtube/fb whenever I want, of course not something extreme like browsing porn. Whats the worse that could happen ? Some coworker complain that I'm not doing my job ?

What experience has ever led you to believe that what software engineers like or dislike factors into how their work environments are set up? The Important People consider us, at best, a necessary nuisance.

I’ve seen the open plan sold as what engineers are asking for, but anecdotally I don’t see them asking for that, so I wonder what drives it. Does it attract people right out of college? (if so, it would be important for recruiting?)

It's cheap.

... at least in the short term (less building costs), but more expensive in the long term (less productivity, less happy employees).

The decision makers don't seem to care.

My company changed to an open office right before selling. It was a short-term money-making decision.

They're cheaper, faster to set up, and pack more people into less space?

I'm considering an offer that would introduce a 30+ minute commute and an open office plan back into my life.

I've been working 100% from home for the last 8 months and rather enjoy it.

Should I just hold out for another remote job? I have about 10 months of burn left in my bank account...

The biggest downside of an open office for is that I type really fast and loud on a mechanical keyboard some of my colleges are bothered by. But other people find the noise relaxing, so maybe I need to just have all the loud clackers get together in a single room.

It's because you see so many people that you want to retract a bit and not have to directly deal with them...

this "study" is riddled with issues. only 2 companies studied. i can't imagine how different every place is depending on its culture. how comfortable are employees ? are the teams next to people they don't know? was this measurement amortized over project volumes after the move? are these companies designed with some private areas easily accessible on every floor for teams to discuss / have daily stand ups if needed?

seems one could easily come up with 2 new companies example where the opposite is true given a different design / team layout / project types and so on

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