That's exactly the reason, and it's the only reason. Open space is cheaper. All the song-and-dance about "collaborative environments" is just psychological manipulation to make the employees feel like they are not team players if they don't like it.
The "rah rah" social types railroaded us into a terrible cubical-based environment where scrums are taking place four feet from my desk and I cannot close a door to get a moment's rest away from people. I am becoming bitter and resentful, and while I am doing well, it is in spite of the system, not because of it.
Management loves it because they get to cram more people into the same amount of space. Managers get offices, of course.
Look: I've worked in collaborative environments. I know what they're like. I also know when I'm being fed a line of bull-poo about how open offices make things collaborative and agile and stuff. I can cope.
The real hidden cost? These environments drive good people away. Work area design is really, really tough.
In my experience, when someone who has designed your new area says the setup is for productivity and collaboration, what they have really done is optimize cost, and you have never had the opportunity to talk to them about your work habits (because that would have made them wrong, and increased the cost if they had truly listened).
Thank you for letting me vent. :)
It wasn't anything other than economic rationalism.
Hell, one of our big banks - the kind that report record profits every quarter - moved a segment of staff into new offices... and only provided 80% of the seats. "Everyone will work from home one day a week". They hotdesked these staff - no guaranteed desk, no personalisation, no real way to even know whether a colleague was in or where on the floor they could be found. The kicker is that this wasn't minimum-wage call-centre staff oe similar, this was six-figure employees.
In practice, certain desks were "reserved". Mere peons who hadn't been in the office on the first day it operated could take their pick of terrible desks on any one of three floors.
... if there were any left by 8am.
So in practice you had to get up at 6, log into their utterly terrible booking system (IE6 required and about two dozen ActiveX controls) and book it first thing.
I would agree that it's the main reason, but I'm not sure it's always the only reason. Some people (for whatever reason) actually buy into the idea that working in an open space is better for creativity, collaboration, etc. Even some developers, who ought to know better, seem to have drank enough Agile Koolaid that they believe in this stuff now.
It's actually, IMO, one very unfortunate side-effect of the Agile movement... people somehow started equating "agile" with "everybody must be in one big room together" and that meme stuck, and now it's contributing to the propagation of this "open plan" nonsense. Never mind that you pretty much never, ever, need to actively collaborate with somebody for 8-10 continuous hours in a day. Or never mind that Tom and Suzy collaborating is keeping Joe from getting anything done due to the constant distractions... sigh
They're called extroverts. They get into management and then fuck everything up for the mass of introvert engineers because they're incapable of conceiving that a human being wouldn't want to be in constant contact with other human beings at all times.
I think many of the open plan office advocates have no idea how much they produce on a given day or not, and don't simply know how much MORE they make in a quiet room.
I'm at a small startup with ~8 people, which is currently working out of a 5000+ square-foot warehouse with dozens of spare office rooms along the side. And you know what? All the engineers work together in just one large room, so they can ask each other what's going on with some part of the code and things like that.
Of course, it's only a few people, chatter is limited (and usually informative), and most of the time it's fairly quiet. I'm sure a variety of open-plan offices don't meet those needs, and could use additional partitioning and quiet spaces like the article talks about. I'm sure you run into a variety of issues trying to scale the open-space office. But contrary to your cynical assessment, the concept of open-space collaboration has some intrinsic merit and works well in a variety of cases.
For example, I work in a relatively open space with two different teams mixed in. It's also the central hub for all the offices. So if anyone feels like chatting, in their office or not, or gets a bit boisterous, the developer's focus and productivity goes into the toilet.
It really is excruciating during those times.
I've had my own office before and didn't really care for it. The best work environment I've been in was a "double-sized" office (maybe 20x12?) with four or five desks against the walls. Pairing up meant just rolling your chair over. The door was most often shut to keep the noise out. Impromptu team meetings were quick and easy. Everyone in the office kept conversation volume low to respect the rest of the team. When there's only 4 or 5 people in an office you can make that stick. When you center a small company around a main area, where I'm also expected to work, that's a losing battle and you end up looking like the cranky old man who just can't stand it if other people are being cheerfully sociable.
Well, yes, of course. 8 people can all work in one room without constant distraction. The question is, will everyone working in one large room still be ideal when your startup reaches 80 people?