a letter to the open floor plan office

Activity-based Working

An Open Letter to the Open Office

Dear Open Office,

I need to get something off my chest: you’re the worst. And by you, I mean the wide expanse of office space with nothing to see but desks on desks on desks. These desks aren’t even the fancy executive kind, with drawers or space for much more than a laptop. And while you live within the confines of a slickly designed space, you fall short on productivity and wellness.

For one thing, I don’t appreciate the screen-creepers you invited into this office when you were designed. And yes, I’m talking to you, colleague currently staring at my work from the row behind me, whether you realize you’re doing it or not. Where’s the privacy? What if I get an alert from my bank and need to check my account? God forbid I disclose to my entire office that I spent $8 on a latte at Starbucks. We need a bit more discretion.

It’s not just about checking my bank account, though. With your lack of privacy comes constant interruptions, enough to drive anyone insane. With Jerry at the desk next door tapping me on the shoulder every few minutes to ask about a project he should really just call a meeting for, I can barely get anything done myself.

Supposedly, you encourage more collaboration to happen on the fly. But in reality, working in an open plan office creates a world where people neglect to bundle questions into one conversation and instead decide to tap and distract throughout the day. It’s actions like these that make me consider purchasing the Panasonic blinders. Add in the background noise of paper-shufflers, hard-typers and throat-clearers and you’ve got yourself a symphony. Not to mention, side conversations are constant since meeting rooms are always booked.

My productivity would plummet if I hadn’t invested in a solid pair of Bose headphones. But I shouldn’t have to rely on a pair of headphones for a break from noise and distraction. I should have access to a slew of “quiet car” and activity-based working spaces to choose from instead. Or my company could invest in speakers that play white noise to hum out the sound.

It’s not only distractions that bring me anxiety in the open workspace. Maybe I’m introverted and get worn down by the chatter, movement and flurry of energy of the colleagues all around me. Or maybe I’m extroverted and crave a space I can go to spark conversation and creativity without feeling like I’m bothering others. Worse even is weighing out whether or not I can pick up the phone when my doctor calls. I’m usually left whispering into my phone from my desk, asking the doctor to repeat what they said and hiding direct questions behind vague pronouns and expressions. Either that or I’m hiding in the dark, cramped storage closet hoping no one walks in.

Speaking of desks, it’s incredible how much dust accumulates on a surface in a short amount of time. Add in the after effects of coffee mugs and snack bags, and I’m met with quite the petri dish of leave-behinds from colleagues when I’m hot desking. Shared desks mean I don’t even have a 2 ft by 3 ft desk to call my permanent home and instead am forced to play musical chairs in the morning before I can settle in and get to work. Not to mention the fact that my coworkers are perpetually lost not knowing where people sit. If the process of finding and booking a desk was a simple search and a hot desking policy was circulated throughout the company, these issues would likely disappear.

But we don’t have policies, we lack productivity and we certainly don’t have intentional design. My coworkers and I are left to fend for ourselves in your terrible open office layout.

So then, what’s the solution? Well, I, for one, am never going back to cubicles.

While I tend to accumulate stuff, I strive to be a minimalist. I feel freed by not having a desk piled high with belongings to tie me down. I don’t want a cubicle filled with a year’s worth of projects. I don’t need to save that flyer to remember the event I hosted. I also want to feel like I’m working in a coffee shop instead of a beige fabric-covered prison. Instead, and don’t take this personally, I wish I worked in an office where I feel empowered to pick how and where I do my work throughout the day. I want a sense of ownership and privacy without having to cart my belongings around. I want it to be clear to my colleagues when I want to collaborate and when I need to do heads-down individual work.

I wish I worked in an office with an adequate number of meeting rooms, touchdown spaces, soft-seating areas and private spots where I can take a phone call, without having to reserve an entire conference room. I want an office with easily accessible natural light and a modern feel. I want to be able to move around as I see fit, and find people whenever I need them.

That’s an effective open office. The problem is, too often you assume we can simplify everything down to just a sea of desks. But that’s not an open office. That’s just poor design.

Sincerely,

WFH tomorrow