A Defense Of The Open Office

January 8, 2016

Every once in a while an article finds its way into my Facebook feed telling the woe-is-me stories of people lamenting the end of civilization due to open office plans. I’m tempted to lash out each time I see one, knowing it must be written by some precious, overreacting “victim” who just lost a cushy office and now has to exist in “public.”

True to form, just a few days ago, I came across an essay from a New York-based woman that was shared by the Washington Post (http://wapo.st/1FAk2sP). As expected, she spends 800 words pointing out all the bad things that come with working in an open setting and all the sinister reasons bosses implement them:

  • They “[maximize] a company’s space while minimizing costs”
  • “Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees”
  • They prevent…”clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone.”

Right out of the gate, the writer admits she recently lost her private office to a “long, shared table,” so you know there’s some bitterness at play. And I get it! I’ve been in the same situation. I’ve worked in essentially every kind of standard office setting you can think of: a cubicle, a shared cubicle (the worst), an office with a door but no window, an office with a door and a window overlooking a lovely lake.

When Fast Horse transitioned to an open office almost 10 years ago – which was pretty revolutionary at the time – I admit I got a little nervous. I too lost my office. My privacy. My little sanctuary. But I got over it, and so should all these crazy naysayers.

The article goes on to argue that the alleged benefits of an open environment are bullsh*t, and in it, Google, Yahoo, eBay and most of Silicon Valley are the accused villains who have effectively destroyed the lives of professionals everywhere. In citing a study conducted by the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the writer points to a lack of sound and visual privacy and a massive loss of productivity as two of the major flaws of an open floor plan.

Oh, and she and her co-workers were struck down by illness “like dominoes” last flu season. LOL.

Seriously, all this hubbub about – and against – open office environments is so stupid. I’m no environmental psychologist (and seriously, who is?), but after seven years of living in these conditions at Fast Horse, I really don’t think I’d trade it for anything else.

Look, I’m not saying our workspace is perfect. Can it get loud and annoying in our office? Damn right it can. Do I pull out the noise canceling headphones from time to time? You bet I do. Are there days I’d give almost anything for a closed space and a door? Absolutely.

Where we get it right – and where we have been getting it right for almost 10 years – is exactly in line with one of the writer’s recommended solutions to an open floor plan: a flexible work policy. At Fast Horse, we’re able to work from any location that helps us be more efficient and productive. Sometimes that means a coffee shop or a library or your bed. For me, it’s even meant a bar. It’s magical!

FH2015_10

I love our open environment. Walls and doors create formality and distance, and I’ve had too much of that in my career. Without them, I have the opportunity to see and interact with people I may not get to work with directly on a regular basis. It’s something I greatly value.

Further, the transient nature of having no home base while at the office is kind of invigorating. The chaos that comes with bolting from floor to floor, table to table throughout a day keeps me feeling fresh. After all, a rolling stone gathers no moss.

And at the end of the day, when that same open environment just isn’t working for me, our flexible work policy gives me the opportunity to get the eff out.

So I say to all those bellyachers out there: relax. Give it a try. The open office environment is not something to fear, but to be embraced. Now stop whining and get to work.