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“First, you tear down the walls and dispense with the soulless cubicles. Then you put everyone at long tables, shoulder to shoulder, so that they can talk more easily. Ditch any remaining private offices, which only enforce the idea that some people are better than others, and seat your most senior employees in the mix. People will collaborate. Ideas will spark. Outsiders will look at your office and think, This place has energy. Your staff will be more productive. Your company will create products unlike any the world has ever seen.” (Source)

This has been the myth of the pervasive Open-Office plan even before Covid-19.

Most employees dislike open offices, not only because they’re distracting, loud, with little privacy, and sensory overload, but mostly because they feel overwhelmed, especially after Covid-19. People in open offices take two-thirds more sick leave than those with private offices and report more stress and less productivity . In addition, open offices reduce face-to-face interaction and increase email and messaging use. Yet, the open plan persists mainly because it’s cheap and CEOs love its powerful symbolism.

Although open floors have existed since the 1940s, they really took off with Google to showcase its growing wealth and influence signaling the “dawn of a new professional era”. When Facebook opened its headquarters in 2015, the open office had become the “face of innovation” and a powerful metaphor of wealth and success. The disruption brought about by open offices became irresistible to startups and established companies. Open offices had become a way to indicate a company’s value to venture capitalists and talent. The goal was “not to improve productivity and collaboration, but to signal that the company is doing something interesting.”

Open offices may have seemed great from a symbolic or aesthetic perspective, but they have been terrible at encouraging employee engagement, interaction, and productivity. The main reason business leaders choose open offices is because they are less expensive and make them feel powerful and successful.

Despite the billions of dollars in annual savings for office space (The global average space allotted to employees fell from 225 square feet in 2010 to 120 square feet in 2017), the costs for lower productivity (several trillion dollars) far outweigh all the savings.

No matter how much emphasis is placed on visual and auditory privacy, or in the layout and appearance of the workplace as a whole, the problems will remain, not because of open offices, but because of the organizational structure within these spaces.

In other words, the problem is not the open office, but the organizational structure in place.

To the Health of Your Tropophilic Open Office!

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant and stocks trader, keynote speaker, published author, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.

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