As far as I can tell, here are the top 3 reasons for having open plan offices:
2. Increases team communication.
3. Makes employees work harder because they’re being watched.
Here’s what I think.
1. Yeah, probably. But so is putting everyone behind big sweatshop-style benches in one big factory warehouse. Where do you draw the line? Actually if you’re a manager, forget I said that, because I’ve probably just given you the idea for a new sweatshop-plan office.
2. This is the sort of important team communication I receive every day in my open plan office. It’s pretty typical of every open plan office I’ve ever worked at.
“Hey, you have a doily on your desk!”
“What do you reckon you’d do if you had a BA majoring in Political Science?”
“Hmm…working hard, eh?” (note – not sarcasm!)
“Did you get my email?”
“Can I use your stapler?”
“How does that flapping plant thing work?”
“Did you know that we’re both ailurophiles?”
How this is conducive to me doing more work, I have no idea. The number one complaint about open plan offices seems to be “background noise”. I can generally tune that out over time, but it’s the direct interruptions that you can’t tune out. If anything, it encourages people to slack off for a chat because if you don’t then you’re being anti-social and probably “not a team player”.
3. If your employees are that untrustworthy that they need constant supervision to do their work, maybe you need new employees. Seriously, if someone wants to slack off, they will find a way to slack off, regardless of how open plan their office is. Even in the strictest companies there’ll always be one person taking personal calls and emailing jokes to all their friends all day long, or wandering around with a cold cup of coffee in their hand asking people if they’re “working hard or hardly working”.
There’s no study I’ve ever heard of that’s proven that people in offices do less work. The truth is, some managers don’t think employees are really working unless they can see it happening in front of their eyes, all the time. Maybe it’s like some kind of security blanket thing, I don’t know.
Personally I’m okay with my open plan office at the moment. It’s certainly not the worst one I’ve ever had to work in. But we’ll be moving soon and I fear for the layout of our new office. Here’s hoping I don’t end up reliving my hallway desk days.