What I know about ... working in an open plan office

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published a simple image based article which chronicled the history of office design and its changing form. It seems trying to find the magic workplace layout to increase employee output is not a new phenomenon. Over the years, many of us have been indoctrinated into an open plan office environment in the hope that the productivity will flow. Certainly, research tells us that if the open plan office is designed correctly and business needs are considered a priority over design trends, the productivity cup will run over. There have been thousands of articles on this subject. What has been reported much less are the first person accounts from employees working in a more exposed workplace.  An analysis of current trends always has more gravitas when you hear about the impact from the horse’s mouth. Here are two front line examples I have enjoyed reading here and here.

On the back of these, we asked a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) to consider the impact of his new open plan surroundings. After all, in the midst of “collaborative”, “agile” and “ABW” buzzword world; employees are the people who can often provide us with the greatest insight into the effectiveness of current design trends.

Here is our friend's analysis of his office environment...


"I’ve always wanted my own corner office. When I was a child I walked into my father’s work place, his wooden desk was one of a dozen. In the corner was the boss’ office, I knew this because there was a sign on the closed door that said ‘MANAGER’. My father took me into meet the man inside; Big Ray (as they called him, because he was big and his name was Ray) shook my tender hand. He looked and acted like a boss should look and his office reinforced this.

They took away our cubicles last year and replaced them with long benches. In return we were issued a locker, a laptop and every workstation (as they are now called) was equipped with two screens, and a phone which lets you port your number to it.

I’m working with my project team on our latest assignment. We’ve congregated together and the benefits are immediate. The conversation flows, we talk through issues as they arise, debrief instantly on those difficult phone calls. We’ve de-cluttered under our new motto “file it, scan it or dump it” and we’ve become “practically paperless.” It’s been really useful for us as a multi-disciplinary company to bring together the different skills sets into one place rather than sit in our cubicles.

I wonder how I ever worked without two screens. I can have my email open all day on its own dedicated screen and cutting and pasting (aka plagiarising) from one document to another has never been easier.

I’m really enjoying not sitting next to Gavin; I endured his questionable hygiene and loud keyboard for more than two years. He mistook my polite questions to him on a Monday morning about his weekend as friendship and I was worried I was never going to be able to get away from him. The introduction of ABW allowed me to escape, but now he sits alone. I worry that he thinks no one likes him; he’d be right but that’s not the point.

We’ve become a much more social bunch but I fear that there’s not enough time for people to sit and really think things through in their own head. Sometimes people need that. There’s nowhere to hide when you work in a collocated project team.

My boss gave up his office to create a quiet room so people can focus on deliverables without being distracted. I lost respect for him the day he came out onto the floor with the rest of us. I’d been eyeing off his office for years, hoping one day it would be mine.

I’m going to have to leave the company because the incentive to climb the corporate ladder is gone without any prospect of my own piece of real estate in exchange for years of dedicated service. I’ll be looking for a position that offers me the office I’ve always wanted, a musty, paper cluttered, coffee stained den of power. Don’t judge me too harshly, it’s not like I’m expecting a car park." 

First published on www.charterbuild.com.au

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