In about a month or so, I’ll be lamenting this post. I’ll have been working from home from my own (outstandingly decorated) home office, in complete isolation and will likely be itching for human contact. I’ll be calling old colleagues and friends and just breathing down the line, listening to them say ‘hello’… However, while the wounds of working in an open-plan office are still fresh and raw, let’s go with it. These blog posts won’t write themselves.
1. There is no privacy
Whether you’re trying to have a private telephone conversation, or trying to work out what that embarrassing rash could be on WebMD, open-plan offices give no room for your private endeavours. I’m not saying that it’s okay to go to work to yak it up with your mates and browse shoes online all day, but just as work sometimes leaks into your private time, so some of your home life will need to be addressed while you are at work.
What a lot of companies need to recognise is that cellphones, and a greater accessibility to the internet means that more people are able to, and more willing to, take work home with them or catch up on stuff at home when required.
But as Hannibal Lecter says, “Quid pro quo, Clarice”.
If employees are expected to take work home, then ‘home affairs’ will occasionally come into the work place. Work/life balance is a thing of the past, these days we deal with work/life integration. I am fully capable of having an argument with my friend about the best kind of cheese on IM, while completing a campaign report for a Blue Chip client before going to a dentist’s appointment and answering client emails in the waiting room. It’s not only possible to multitask using modern technology, it’s what they fucking built it for.
2. Hell is other people
Primarily other people’s music, food smells, coughing and sneezing. But this isn’t the fault of your ska-loving, curry-chowing, excessively loud-sneezing neighbour; this is the fault of the open-plan layout. Anyone who’s worked in a tightly-packed open-plan office with a single sound system will know that sense of dread that befalls its inhabitants when one person bravely, or obliviously, stands up to say, “hey guys, listen to this…” before the inevitable aural abuse commences. We should all be free to listen to our own terrible taste in music, and eat tuna onion salad all day long without interfering with each other, but the open plan office forces everybody’s human foibles upon each other.
3. Concentration only applies to fruit juice
If you listen to the dicks who first thought up the idea of an open-plan office, they’ll say the whole point of this space-saving layout is to encourage communication. Without all those pesky dividers or walls, your colleagues can just turn around and ask you for anything they might need, immediately. The problem with this, however, is that your colleagues can just ask you for anything that they might need, immediately.
So if you’re trying to code, or write or do anything that requires a modicum of concentration, you’re pretty fucked. I believe that face-to-face communication is more effective than email, but those emails are what provides that often-needed paper trail when things slip through the cracks, or don’t go to plan.
Asking someone to do an update, over your shoulder, while sucking down a yogisip on your way to a meeting is far less likely to render your desired results than sending an explicit (date and time stamped) email request and then just following this up with a chat or a phone call for that ‘personal’ touch.
My problem with open-plan office spaces is that there is way too much ‘personal touching’ going on.
Look, even science agrees with me.
Yeah, science, bitch.