Taking down the traditional cubicle-styled offices and putting everyone within close proximity to each other seems to be the right move to combat what was once considered a soul-sucking work environment.
Stripping privacy and mixing senior employees with the day-to-day might seem like the proper step to encourage collaboration and productivity, but in reality the open office concept can be distracting, loud and detract from actual productivity. So why do offices keep promoting them?
A 2018 study by Harvard Business School has found that open offices reduce face-to-face interactions by about 70%, while increasing email and messaging by 50%.
Google may have been one of the early proponents of this concept when the company renovated its headquarters in 2005 to include many communal workspaces, closed off meeting rooms, with a few private offices still available.
Around the same era, an extreme, cheaper version of the open office concept was coming to the forefront in an effort to differentiate from one another. For example, some companies moved into unfinished lofts in San Francisco and simply left them that way.
“Those places were terrible,” said Joel Spolsky, who co-founded Fog Creek Software in 2000 and is currently the co-founder and CEO of Stack Overflow. “They were so loud, because there were no drop ceilings. It was painful for everybody. But [dotcom startups] were doing it because they had literally no choice.”
Startups and established companies both find that open office plans enticing for numerous reasons: to portray themselves as a group of modern, high tech companies and how inexpensive they are.
While this model can encourage interaction between teams, it can also hurt interaction within teams when it is necessary to work in tandem on particular projects.
WeWork is the at the forefront of this layout, filling their offices with communal tables and lounge areas, but still attempt to provide private spaces to cater to all members needs.