I’ve been openly skeptical of many newer fads in workplace culture, namely unlimited vacation time (see my rant here), working remotely (no articles yet, but I just don’t think they work for many types of product teams), and open office floor plans.
It makes sense that as the market demand for top software talent increases, so will too the office perks, including chefs, beer, games, etc.. But, why is it that so much emphasis is placed on open environments, vs. giving engineers a dedicated space where they can have quiet and focus?
I think the answer is all in marketing and economics. These companies want to have beautiful spaces that can get featured in the press and to give prospective customers and employees impressive tours. Also, these open office environments allow employers to pack in more people per square foot.
It’s not optimized for employee productivity. Because this trend is so new, employees just go along with it, given the beautiful space design aesthetics, and try to learn to adapt once they are on board. This quickly turns into discovering how much it stinks and then starting to complain about too much noise, no place for books, whiteboard, etc.
Also, doesn’t it seem to be hypocritical when the executives at these companies all have private offices, but everyone else doesn’t? Why do they need the private space but we don’t?
Well, a new study by Harvard University was recently published showing that these negatives were not even overshadowed by a boost in worker productivity. Overall, workers spent less time with face to face conversations and more time on chat and email.
I’ve seen this play out in my own experience. Due to the open floor plan, the only way to have a 1 on 1 conversation with someone is to find a huddle room. This ends up being a big hassle, since there is never a free conference room, so people just resort to using slack or email.
Inc did a good job of summarizing this paper as well, worth the read here.
What do you think? Do you work in an ‘open office environment’ and find it to be productive? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.