Home » Staffing » Yes, the Open Office Is Terrible

When two #Fortune500 firms moved from cubicles to open office layouts, face-to-face communication paradoxically fell by 70%, while e-communication (email, Slack, etc.) rose 20–50%. Freakonomics on Facebook, Feb 19, 2018. Image source: University of Exeter

The open office is not dead. Oftentimes people say, “Which is better: private office or open plan?” We measured all types of individual work environments, and what we’ve found is that if you solve for design, noise, and access to people and resources, they perform equally, and one is essentially not better than the other. And the best open plan can be as effective as a private one. And that was a surprise. I love data when it tells you something unexpected. Freakonomics.com, November 14, 2018, Yes, the Open Office Is Terrible — But It Doesn’t Have to Be

In the Perfect Project Management Methodology, I highlighted a similar finding.  Just about any reasonable methodology will work well, will help us get noticeably better when we understand the methodology and use it appropriately.  Appropriately means that we adapt it to our organizations. Our unique situation.

The second notion here is overcoming our built-in assumptions on how the world works.  One of my consistent messages, for example, is that meetings and face to face encounters are often not the most productive ways to do business.  I’ve replaced standing meetings with business rules and decision meetings with quick e-mails and recommendations to all the decision makers.  People are often more productive when they are not constantly interacting with each other, especially competent information and software technology workers. Too many attempts to fix organizational or cultural problems entailed more meetings and more interactions.  Sometimes, often in my experience, we need to let people just get down to doing what is important for their job.  Do, however, provide them with the overall guidance and feedback they need to do an appropriate job.  Do listen hard to their feedback.

See, for example, how being remote from the main office can be better.

Finally, getting and measuring data was always indispensable for understanding our real issues as well as overcoming our unconscious biases.  Doing nothing more than trending e-mails, averaging defect counts, or just counting the number of meetings we called, allowed us to make what were simple changes that resulted in huge productivity gains.

See what measuring email infoglut tells us about our communications and how defect reports are our best friend.

Do you measure and understand your methodologies well enough to get all the expected benefits out of them?

Thank you for sharing!