Why I can’t stand the Open Office idea

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Seriously – the “Open Office” concept is a great idea… in theory. Free collaboration, casual conversations, the hum of busyness and creative energy… We even have low cubes that give some privacy but also encourage social interaction. These things are great. But I’ve noticed a key issue with my work environment. I can’t get any WORK done.

That’s kind of a big deal…

As a creative director in an internal marketing department I need to be accessible to my team at large, but also I need visibility into a lot of our work: email, calendar, Slack, instant messaging, web browsers… Not to mention actual creative apps like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. That means I use multiple screens. I’m not kidding, as soon as I found out my MacBook can control an HDMI monitor and a second with a lightning port, I went full Evil Genius Mode!

 I can’t get any WORK done.

That’s kind of a big deal…

Which is why I hate to pack up my laptop and camp out for privacy. It’s inconvenient. It messes up not only my displays, but the entire workflow, constantly plugging and unplugging into my monitors.

And I constantly have gear with me too – my Spark planner, phone for meeting reminders, pens for reviews, coffee or water. Way too many back-to-back meetings that just add to the situation. (There’s a study on a major loss of productivity right there!)

They say every distraction interrupts your workflow and adds another 20 minutes just to get back to your previous level of productivity and concentration. Now I’m not a math guy but that has to be a serious draw not only on MY 9+ hour workday however many times it occurs, but multiply that by however many people are in your corporate open-floorplan office building and I’m sure the loss in productivity and dollars is staggering.

I’m not saying everyone has these issues though. I’m sure extroverted folks thrive in a highly collaborative environment but who decided this stupid open office trend was for everybody? For introverts like me it’s a daily barrage of side concentrations, walk-by interruptions and a field of potentiSQUIRREL!!! Sorry about that… I mean distraction from rows upon rows of cubicle-dwelling “prairie dogs.”

Seriously, give an introverted creative person with ADHD an amped up game of whack-a-mole and just watch the look in our eyes. You’ll feel sorry for every deer that dared walk across a nighttime roadway.

So what’s the solution? So many people say “invest in a good pair of headphones and suck it up.” To every tweeted, shared and bookmarked self-help article by Hubspot and Inc, I say WRONG.

Call me judgemental, I don’t care. I’m sure I’m going to tick off every corporate real estate associate tasked with laying out new office spaces for “trendy open floor plans to attract Millennials to the tech sector.”

The answer is choice. Account for diversity, corporate America. That’s your rallying cry these days isn’t it? Like it or not, diversity includes more than the color of our skin, what holidays we observe or which bathroom we now get to use. Some of us are different in areas that aren’t as easy to see – our brains.

The answer is choice. Account for diversity, corporate America. That’s your rallying cry these days isn’t it?

Give us choice. Provide open spaces for those who do well in that environment, but don’t forget about the other half of us who suffer because of your one-size fits all communal trend. After all, you’re paying us to work for you, not socialize. Provide office spaces to those of us who need that physical buffer to concentrate.

“Mad Men” Image Copyright AMC television 

The 1960s agency setting of Mad Men may have a lot of elements of corporate culture we’re glad to see go, but there’s one area they had that I really miss: I want to close a freakin’ door. I’d be more than happy to host a creative meeting or three in my office – so how about planning for 10 or 20 less huddle rooms (because honestly, 90% of the time they’re unused and I imagine there are social and psychological reasons behind their lack of use) and give those of us some privacy who are crying out for it.

It doesn’t have to be that political “only D and C level” can have offices for condidentiality rigamarole. Office politics be damned (pardon my language, but since I believe Hell is a real place, I get a pass…). Give it a try and I’ll wager the boost in productivity will be reflected in your next NPS report.

Heck, I’ll challenge you to a game of whack-a-mole!

“Creative, in my office, 5 minutes.” – Don Draper, Mad Men

Thoughts? Hit me up on Twitter at @robchristianson and let me know what you think.



3 Replies to “Why I can’t stand the Open Office idea”

  1. Hey Rob,

    Sorry you don’t like the open office concept :(

    For me, open office isn’t bad, because my strengths lean towards inclusive collaboration and strategic ideation, but I see your point. During crunch time, I need to be heads down in a silo and my desk environment can bleed my concentration.

    So if the open office isn’t working for you, then you want to give people the OPTION of having a closed door office? That would create strange office social dynamics unless you’re hearkening back to the logic of management in offices and workers in cubes.

    I would love to concept new office environments that would be more conducive for both of us. Gensler is a great resource for innovations that conform to unique corporate needs.

    Personally… I think no one should have a specified desk. We work in agile teams that are handpicked by Project Leaders and we would set up shop in a bullpen to burn a project down fast to launch, then another team would be picked with skill sets that are more “maintenance” than “launch”. This means the Launch team would disband and would then be picked for the next project by other Project Leaders.

    Because no one is tied down, there is no room for comfort or distractions. It’s all work because you’ll be aware that time is more finite and location impermanent. LOL, or maybe desks will be mobile with three fixed monitors that people can roll to where they need to park. Those who need privacy can roll their desk into an enclosure located towards the outskirts of the office.

    If you’re not on a team, then you could be doing research. With that, you could be assigned an office for privacy, but you would first need a hypothesis, timeline and there would be an outcome summary with a presentation at the end of it.

    I could understand that Management would be constantly researching the next curve, but would need to have it posted so that everyone would have a general idea of the company’s direction.

    Lets do lunch sometime ;)

  2. Great tips, thanks! I know we can’t expect to change this ship’s direction in a day so we do what we can. Great ideas. I’ll often have headphones on without anything playing – more often than not, because I forgot to turn on the music or a meeting ended, but also just to get some peace.

    Headphones block sound but not the visual stimuli… Sometimes I feel like that T-Rex in Jurassic Park, just madly chasing Jeff Goldblum as he waves that signal flare but never throws it.

  3. Nice rant man! KABOOM!!! I can see you now kicking cube walls over and ripping your shirt in half. BLASTED MILLINEALS! Ha!
    Ok.. You asked for reflection, so here’s $.02 for a loud one who adds at least 20 minutes to half the associates on the 8th floor every day.
    1. The tall cubes didn’t work.
    2. Headphones don’t work for me either. However, noise cancelling earphones do. Get yourself a pair of Shure earphones.
    3. I park myself in a different location. Still can be noisy but somehow I’m less distracted and less interrupted.
    4. For a year, I had a blue siren light that I would turn on under stress or for pockets of time. It was a signal that I was not interruptible. It actually worked.
    5. I will find a phone booth for pockets of time
    6. On meetings… If they don’t have an agenda with expected outcome, I reserve the right to reject the invite.

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