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Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

In a few months, we’re moving into a new office. It will be the latest fad – the open floor plan; no cubicles and offices. Everyone gets an 18” x 42” table and a 1’x1’x1’ cart on wheels for personal belongings. According to the bean counters who run the company this will make everyone more “collaborative and productive.” Don't hope to have any privacy with a phone call.

It’s similar to the old days when we each had two drafting tables or a desk and a table. However, in this new arrangement there won’t be any bookcases, reference tables, plan files, file cabinets. The management wants as paperless an office as possible. I have 1000’s of reference files in electronic format but there are times when it’s easier to open a book or roll out a set of plans.

I don’t see this as a way of making the staff more productive. It’ll stop people from surfing the net but if someone wants to text the rest room is a good hideout. To me, this is about saving money by jamming more people into less space.

I’d be interested in hearing what those in this type of arrangement think.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

It can be rubbish - until you really need to concentrate on something and then it gets worse. Key skill to develop: Learning how to tell your neighbour they're being loud and distracting without offending them.

Behaviour to avoid: Believing that now you have a large open area, it's a good place to conduct an important whole-team brief. It isn't. Somebody will have specified a ceiling finish to restrict the movement of sound through the floorplate (a genuinely good idea for 99% of the time) and this stops anybody further than 20 feet from the briefer from hearing the (presumably) important message.

Unexpected impact: In a large organisation with multiple teams which form, grow, shrink and disappear as they move through the lifecycle of their project, expect a regular cycle of "shuffle-ups" and "rebrigades" as the facility managers move people around in the human equivalent of a disk defrag.

What could possibly be worse than that? The same thing, but with the added fad of hot-desking: Provide enough desks for 70% or fewer of your staff (on the assumption that, on average, the rest will be on holiday, sick, in the field or visiting suppliers), provide IT facilities on six desks in every seven (on the assumption that, by this stage, people will have given up complaining anyway). Finally, flood the place with contract labour, but don't include them in the desk-allocation arithmetic.

Innocent question to ask as the population density goes up: Will there be corresponding increases in car parking spaces, catering facilities and (crucially, in a workplace full of middle-aged blokes) toilet facilities.

There are some positives: You get to know everything that's going on around you. This can result in all sorts of useful learning opportunities and lead to lots of useful collaborations when people with experience you didn't know they had overhear your problems and chip in to help. In some sorts of business (and I think the one I'm in is one of them), that can be genuinely valuable.


RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I applaud this: "the human equivalent of a disk defrag" Where I've been, cube-farm central, this is common. The idea of co-locating only applied to worker bees; management retained their closed-door offices at the remote end of the building.

Cube-farms are worse. They give the illusion of privacy. Between whistlers, radios, and cube wall kickers, there was 'private' noise that people felt OK to generate because they could not see their victims. And cube-farms never have private conversations, especially those who are gifted with speaker phones.

The bad part is the same as any organization - if people get judged on the appearance of motion rather than quality output. Typically this means that those who literally roll up their sleeves and keep moving the keys and the mouse will be perceived as being the better workers. Anyone doodling or just thinking is obviously dead-wood, but anyone having a collaboration over, say, March Madness Brackets, is obviously a team player.

When organizations moved from open to cubes I noticed a big decrease in collaboration. However, this was also across the same time as the use of computers allowed people to hide what they were doing and a big decrease in cooperation.

The nice thing about the carts is when layoffs hit, there's less time spent packing and no need to scramble for cardboard boxes.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I've seen it work, and pretty well at that. But the population's innate culture was something that supported it. I've seen it work for Americans, French, Japanese, and Italian.

With each, I observed open arrangements, with obligatory behaviors enforced by culture & management directive: quiet was maintained, even with hushed conversations on the telephones. Never a speaker phone conversation, those were reserved for glass-walled meeting rooms, or the Manager's glass-walled closed-door office. Frequent breaks for coffee or cigarettes seemed to be tolerated, at which one could get very loud with friendly conversations. Then return to the quiet work zone. The Italian instance, in particular, was very interesting. Teams sat around a large custom-made table like a dinner table. Internet & power plugs were everywhere. Other tables for work prototypes or documents formed a second circle around the central table. It was a work requirement to put away EVERYTHING at the end of the day, spotless. The next morning, all the stuff had to be fished out again and set up. Visually pleasing, but I thought it was inefficient.

Typical boisterous loud Americans wouldn't last 10 minutes in those places. Once I was visiting our French offices and our American customer company employees were scheduled to arrive in the afternoon. Even before they entered the work area, they could be heard all the down the hallway (glass walls, of course) speaking very loudly. I overheard one of my colleagues mutter under his breath, "Ah, here come the Americans."

One of the possible great failures you might experience is the MBA-trained management idiots who see only the reduced office furniture expense on the financial spreadsheet. But fail to consider the cost of not communicating and enforcing the required behaviors to make it work. Nor consider adding essential infrastructure items like those "glass-walled" meeting spaces.

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I only lived in the 'cube-farm' for a couple of years and them moved to a hard-walled office. When I was working in a field office in Detroit I even had windows on two walls, however the last 15 years I had no windows at all, but it was the largest office assigned to a non-director/VP so I didn't complain too much winky smile

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I'm just glad I will never be exposed to that environment. Where do I spread out all my drawings? Where do I keep all my codes, manuals, textbooks?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I was on a team that was the proverbial guinea pigs testing that concept for a large former employer a few years ago. After a few weeks it was concluded that our engineers were far less productive, had higher stress levels, worked fewer hours, and overall hated the concept. A few of the non-technical teams liked the concept as it allowed more of a social atmosphere but they also saw the same productivity decreases. What finally killed the concept however was the fact that nothing could be kept secret any longer, everybody knew details of long-term technology development projects and IP protection became a nightmare.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Well if open spaces were so great, senior management would have been the first to be in there and reserve the right for themselves, isn't it?

Been there done that. Everything depends on everyone's behaviour -- how loud they are. Realistically, with so many people per square meter office space there are only 2 possibilities: (1) the noise level is such that noone can concentrate on anything and everyone knows about everyone else's kids being ill and other family business -- or (2) the noise level is such that everything you do (like, call a client, sneeze or yawn) makes the rest of the floor look and frown at you.

I have spent 12 years in an open space and hated it with a passion. I now work in an office that was vacant, used the transition period between two bosses to move in there gradually (boiling frog technique -- spent a few more minutes there each day) and I am about twice as productive now as I used to be in the barnyard.

Open spaces are a sign of management's total lack of interest in the well-being of their workforce. It's dehumanizing.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

PS - "more collaborative" no way. Yes you get to know more things in an open space. But not the things you needed to know, not at the right time and not efficiently.

If you want collaboration, better learn how to have efficient meetings.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?


Quote (Where do I spread out all my drawings? Where do I keep all my codes, manuals, textbooks? )

My thoughts exactly. The pinhead accountants who run the company assume everything is done on a computer screen. The pinhead engineers in management just go along with it.

A friend of mine was in one of these set ups. He said a big problem was the management couldn't get the "white noise" levels right, which made phone calls difficult.

I don't see this as helping collaboration. Each technical discipline will have its own "neighborhood" so a multi-discipline team is still scattered about. Even within the neighborhood, everyone at the same group of tables may not be on the same project.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Many years ago, I worked at an EPC that had low walled cubicles, so kind of a pseudo open space. The walls were low enough you could see everyone at all times. We still had full size desks, book cases, cabinets, etc. I didn't mind it, and I don't think anyone else did either. We had a real good group of guys in the mechanical group and got along well, so that probably helped.

The last company I was at did true open space for some departments but not others (it was the statistical/analytical groups that used data to pump out useless reports about everything grid related that got it). I was in engineering and we kept cubes for the engineers. All managers, directors, VPs, etc. had private offices. It seemed that the departments that got set-up with the open plan were 90+% under 30 years of age as well, so maybe that was part of the decision process to roll it out. Some of the work stations were standing workstations as well. There were a few grumbles when it started, but the complaints died down pretty quickly, so either people adjusted or they were told to pipe down.

At my current employer, even my interns get a private office.

In all of these situations, I didn't see any difference in my ability to accomplish work.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Love my private office with a door.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

This is interesting and perhaps a cultural difference - In all my years of working with various companies, large and small, (in the UK), I have never been in an office that was not open plan. The concept of cubicles or separate, individual offices strikes fear into my heart.
People seem less willing to talk these days, (they seem to be more self contained, especially younger Engineers), but in past times I have always found open offices extremely valuable for co-operative working. Even with different projects going on I have found the cross fertilization of ideas really helpful.
Re - Loud phone conversations you cannot beat a manager holding a meeting on a speaker phone with the office door wide open.
I hate working with headphones on but lots of people like them and use them to isolate themselves - if I was King they would be banned smile

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I too am suspicious of earphones, but meh!

Question ... are the accountants (or whoever is pushing this) getting an open office too ?

Ahh, the "paperless" office ... getting rid of photocopiers ?

Drawings you say ? Aren't they on them there computer things these days ? why would you need a paper print ? (I know, just being silly)

Wait until you get 5S'd ... or whatever the new fad is.

"hot desking" ... good lord, when that happens i'll be working from home ...

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Not that I have been in an open office, but in some job functions we do have hot swapping as the dispatch desk is occupied 24/7.

Accounting did not understand why the chairs had such a short life there.

So what will the next office trend be? Maybe open walls (to outside)?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

"More collaboration" in open-office speak simply means people can gopher over the low wall, ask you a question they were too lazy to research, and plop down and continue watching (insert any interests) videos on their cell phone. At least that has been my experience.

"Art without engineering is dreaming; Engineering without art is calculating."

Have you read FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies to make the best use of these Forums?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?


At my new job, everyone has laptops and docking stations. If we want to walk over and talk to someone, or hold a meeting, we bring our laptops. The system works very much better than I would have predicted. We are on SolidWorks, so we are showing off 3D models. I do not see this working with 2D CAD.


RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

We do have a roof over our heads, so I work in a closed space.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?


This is interesting and perhaps a cultural difference - In all my years of working with various companies, large and small, (in the UK), I have never been in an office that was not open plan....
I hate working with headphones on but lots of people like them and use them to isolate themselves - if I was King they would be banned

IMHO it goes along with the somewhat bad stereotype of US vs foreign engineering - efficiency vs sheer number of bodies available to overanalyze every nut and bolt. Here stateside we try to squeeze the most out of the fewest possible salaried staff, hence even our furniture is designed for efficiency. We have both individual and group tasks, therefore why not have individual and group spaces? I sit in meetings 2-8 hours/day and coworkers often visit my desk individually otherwise, collaboration isn't a problem. A collaborative office space doesn't make sense and has been proven many times over the past 50+ years to greatly reduce productivity, its why most companies got away from open offices in the 60s&70s. Along the same vein, reducing distractions via white-noise machines and personal headphones is another great productivity booster and at the end of the day that is what matters most.

The real issue anymore is that we have become ultra-efficient while creating a system perfect for cons, many execs will gladly get sold a bill of goods on a new productivity booster because they will report out ridiculously optimistic long-term predictions on how new office furniture or process will earn $XM more, be lauded a genius and collect a bonus for the new furniture/process, then either jump ship or blame company "culture" for a lack of efficiency gains...which starts another round of consultants, cons, and office "fads." Conmen conning conmen is what it boils down to IMHO.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Open spaces don't work for engineering. I like them when you are wrapping up details with different members or disciplines at certain points in the project. The actual work should be done in in a cube or office.

I am not entirely convinced that the small savings for having cubes out weighs the loss in productivity due to added distraction. I don't have to lose that much productivity due to noise and distraction to justify an office with a door I can shut. My time is worth too much an hour. I never did my homework next to someone gib jabbing. I never do my taxes next to the TV or someone talking about what they did last weekend. Work is apparently different. I have seen the numbers and the cost for a cube vs an office is really small.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?


Quote (many execs will gladly get sold a bill of goods on a new productivity booster)

where I work, the management seems to fall for every fad that comes along.

Presently, the moving police are harassing everyone to scan and dispose of project files, including active projects, because there won't be any file cabinets in the new space and they don't want to send anything for cold storage.

When I was reassigned to this office several years ago they had a very good collection of reference material. About a year ago, some pinhead threw 95% of it away because it was declared an eyesore. The upcoming office reminds me of kindergarten class. There were groups of tables; five kids in a row facing five other kids. There was a cupboard with "cubby holes" for our few belongings, coloring book, crayons, and painting apron. Every night the tables had to be clean. Funny thing, a few weeks ago, the wellness police sent out an email telling us if we feel stressed during work we should take a time out and color.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I've been in all types, from private office to shared offices to cubicles to fully open arrangements. Enjoyed shared office with one or two fellow engineers the most - great sharing of information. Liked fully open offices least - too much noise and when I had a recalcitrant contractor/engineer/manufacturer on the phone, too many of my fellow inmates had to experience my wrath.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

My resident cube farm recently downsized our cube space. We used to have 5ft walls and tabletop surface on 3 sides, with a large under-desk filing cabinet, coat closet, and set of drawers in each cube. We all had nice big whiteboards, hanging trays on the cube walls, and an extra chair for someone to sit down and collaborate with you.

Now? The walls are just under eye level when sitting down (makes for lots of awkward eye contact with the guy sitting across from you). We have one primary table surface (reduced by almost 2ft from the old cubes) and a little scrap of a table to one side, big enough to hold a desk phone and one stack of paper, and maybe rest your elbow on. There are only 2 walls per cube, so you have a shared middle space with your neighbor to one side. We still have a coat closet, but say goodbye to those drawers. Instead we have a rolling mini filing cabinet (one filing drawer, and one pencil drawer) that tucks under your desk, and can be rolled out for someone to sit on if they want to squeeze in next to you and work through something together at your desk. No whiteboard. No trash can.

We all threw a fit about the whiteboards, so management caved and bought us magnetic ones we can stick to the side of our coat closet. Still no luck on the trash cans.

We are a pretty large company, so there are many major product departments. The way management has us laid out is everybody within one product group sits together. So us engineers and designers are mixed in with the marketing people for our product. For this reason specifically, I am one of those frequent headphone users. I would never get a damn thing done otherwise! I could rant for days about the marketing guy that sits behind me, but I'll save those stories for a rainy day.

I find our new setup very distracting even with headphones, so I'm sorry to say I don't have high hopes for your upcoming open office setup. My condolences.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

"We do have a roof over our heads, ..." ... luxury ! we have to work in an open boat, sitting on benches, listening to a drumbeat ...

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I have had a private office, shared office, open lab with desks, cubicles, and an open office. The worst, by far, and a deal breaker for me is the open office plan. Noise can be dealt with, but as LynnB stated, its the eye contact and visual distractions that got to me and destroyed my productivity. I felt like I was in a prairie dog colony, everyone with their heads up living in fear, looking around and management were the raptors circling about and then going back to their lairs (offices). It's funny how the ones who decide to make it an open office usually don't have to work in the open office. Distracted every minute of every hour of every day.

As for the paperless office - this is another short sighted management trick to make people feel good about themselves with a reduced carbon footprint like recycling - but the quality/creativity of the work declines. Here is an example - if I give you a pen and paper to write a novel or a laptop, which will be better? I suspect the pen and paper - because you are going to hit way more parts of your brain.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Private office pros and cons

Pro: I can fart loudly in my office.
Con: I can't pretend the fart odor isn't mine if someone walks in afterward.

Open office pros and cons

Pro: I can pretend fart odor is not mine.
Con: I must be careful about the noise.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I used to wait until the end of the day to do work that required concentration.
Then I got stuffed in a cubicle farm.
The walls were high enough to minimize visual distractions.
The walls were not absorbent enough to control aural distractions.

Olfactory distractions were the worst.
One of our secretaries left on time every day,
just after setting off some kind of perfume bomb,
that let loose a lethal dose of stuff that might be pleasant,
at half a mile range in an open field.
The air conditioning usually cleared the fog by morning,
but nobody could work evenings in that building.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

It can be rubbish - until you really need to concentrate on something and then it gets worse. Key skill to develop: Learning how to tell your neighbour they're being loud and distracting without offending them.


RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Things I don't like about our open office environment:

- The sound of the office microwave going "ping". It's my cue to leave the open office before I get the pleasure of someone else's reheated lunch wafting over to my seat.

- The always-angry, shouty, sweary person, whose time-management skills are almost as bad as his delegation skills.

- Other people's conference calls.

- Nowhere to hang my scenic calendar.


RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I already work from home one day per week because my high-walled cubicle isn't private enough to permit me to focus and concentrate on specific tasks.

If the high walls were to go away, I'd be working from home five days per week quickly.

Having at least a little semi-private space that you can call your own is a minimally necessary token of respect you must offer to professionals.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

If they really want to save money on space, give you a cell phone and send you home with a laptop. It's 2017, employers need to get with the program.

I used to count sand. Now I don't count at all.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Headphones don't work when there's a loud talker or whistler nearby unless I want to induce deafness with 120dB white noise.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

The problem with working from home is that productivity suffers, most folks don't focus well at home nor do they communicate well remotely.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

The statement "most folks" is obviously too broad a generalization. But I do agree that you'd need to know someone really well, and/or have them doing something which is very easy to monitor from a productivity perspective, before you let them work from home. In my case I worked in the office for over a decade before I began my day's work from home per week. And if we switched to an "open office" or even worse a "hot desk" situation, I'd consider it to be functional/constructive dismissal as I cannot be at all productive in that kind of environment. Call it a disability if you like, but given how hard I find it to focus in a cubicle, I know it would be impossible for me to focus in such an environment. I have no problem focusing at home at all- I have an office in the basement, complete with a door which shuts. As a bonus, the walls go all the way up to the ceiling.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

People's needs vary throughout the day: sometimes you have to be alone to think or write something lengthy. Sometimes you have to discuss and bounce ideas around. The employer should provide different environments that suit those various needs.
This is so freaking trivial I can't believe how so many companies don't get it.

If you "lock people up" in an open space where they can't focus, nothing substantial or thought-through will ever come out of their hands, the situation is as serious as that.
When I worked in an open space, I used to do my thinking in the bathroom. Could spend 30 minutes there in relative quietness. European bathroom walls usually go all the way up to the ceiling and all the way down to the ground :P

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

PS I'm most productive (up to 600%) on business trips, when I rush through the emails at the speed of sound, from 10 to 11 pm in the hotel room, and with a beer :)

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

@cwb1 i thoroughly disagree. I work from home 100%. My productivity is better than in the office. The section I work in wear noise cancelling headphones in the office. Our main work customers talk to us via VoIP. I miss the banter. I don't miss the commute, the germs, or the interruptions.


Greg Locock

New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

We got a preview of the new world order last week. I like how interior decorators describe things: "this is going to be fun and exciting", "a new way of working", "opportunities for collaboration", "opportunities for socializing and building community". The collaboration aspect will be good for the young people. Now they can sit together and pretend to be working instead of using Jabber while pretending to be working. On a serious note, it will probably cut down on their texting because it will be more blatant than it is now.

They're discouraging assigned seats. Everyday you just plop yourself down somewhere in your "neighborhood" - I wonder if Mr. Rogers will be joining us?(in spirit of course). Meanwhile, whenever I need something I'll have to go to my locker and get it; of course I'll skip the coffee bars because I'm not waiting on line for the men's room - they didn't listen to Zeusfaber. I guess that's why they said the office will have plenty of green plants.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Any time someone feels it necessary to say something will be 'fun and exciting' there is cause for worry. I'm pretty sure I can identify fun and excitement on my own.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

He was a young guy, comparatively speaking. I suppose he was simply expressing the views of modernity: Everything has to be fun and exciting. Of course, if everything is fun and exciting nothing is fun and exciting.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

If they really want work to get done - ban smart phones during working hours!

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I'm in one of these "fun and exciting" open offices... its definitely not conducive to focused work, especially since my team shares the floor with members of the sales and business dev teams who spend a lot of time speaking on the phone, or even worse, walk around the office while speaking into their bluetooth headsets.

As an alternative to white/pink noise generators, I've actually found this site helpful : https://coffitivity.com/ . It plays the sound of a busy coffee shop with many background conversations. When there's a few (actual) conversations in the background that are distracting (sales guy making "courtesy calls" aka shooting the s*** with customers), this helps me to not let my focus get drawn into what's being said.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

Open office here.. small desks. The only drawings I can spread out are 11x17s. Desks come in pair, forming an U shape, with my colleague in my back facing the opposite way. Between us, a small desk on rolls... to be shared between the two of us!

Management? In closed door offices!

Biggest peeve I have besides the noise is that people assume that since they can see you, you're available for them and will stop whatever it is you're doing to give them your undivided attention.

I design aqueducts in a parallel universe.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

I worked at one place that did. Get ready to know everyone's business. No private phone calls.

Funny story with that.....I use to work next to a drafter who called his wife every day about 3:30. And he had this deep (and sad) southern drawl (I live in South Carolina).....he started the conversation every time with "Have you fed my boy?" And the typical follow up question was "Why haven't you fed my boy?/What did you feed my boy?"

I finally met the kid once and he looked like he was starving to death. (This was in spite of them feeding him all the time. He had some sort of medical condition.) Well, one day the wife just lost it with him.....and you could hear her over the whole floor. (Loud, redneck woman.) She yelled: "Everyday you call here and ask [imitating him asking the question]. It's like I'm over here slopin' hogs."

So get ready for that kind of stuff. Speaking of food, at the same place, they eventually moved me next to a guy who called his wife every afternoon to review what was for supper. Sort of like that skit on Hee Haw. (I.e. "Grandpa, what's for supper?")

So brace yourself.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?

speaking of food.... when your coworkers have a hot plate for lunch, like burger n fries. The smell, the smell!!!

I design aqueducts in a parallel universe.

RE: Do you work in an "Open Office Space"?


speaking of food.... when your coworkers have a hot plate for lunch, like burger n fries. The smell, the smell!!!

Oh yeah.....how about those Lean Cuisine(s)? That stuff might qualify as gas warfare. Any of that microwaveable stuff is just terrible.

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