November 30, 2020

Ding Dong the Open Office Is Dead

… and the ‘Rona killed it.

In Fast Company article this week, we find that the much-hated open office is likely in its death knell, just another victim of that pesky global virus.

It’s been embraced for saving money, hated for its lack of sound privacy, blasted for reinforcing sexist behavior, and even cited as a reason people considered leaving their jobs, which have led many to call, repeatedly, for the end of the open-plan office.

The pandemic may finally make that happen. According to a new survey of tech companies, fewer than half of offices with fully open plans expect to keep that layout in the post-pandemic era. For some offices, the open plan is already on its way out.

Ever the followers and never the leaders, accounting firms started to embrace the open office concept right around the time other companies were realizing maybe the money savings weren’t an even exchange for staff privacy, noise, and distractions. Not to mention that whole hoteling issue they’re so fond of, which sounds extra gross when viewed through the lens of a post-COVID workplace. GAH, THE COOTIES.

Before the onset of the pandemic, 46% of respondents said their offices were entirely open plan, with either bench seating or cubicles. Looking to their plans going forward, fewer than half of them—only 22% of respondents—said they would continue to keep their open office plan. Even those respondents with a mix of mostly open plans plus some private offices said they’d be likely to change things going forward; about a quarter of respondents said they’d change things in the near future.

Of course, we done been known that open offices are the worst. No really, the worst. But it makes these findings on open offices and interaction from 2018 that much more relevant; the entire point of returning to the office once this ‘rona thing blows over is getting that sweet sweet human interaction we’re all so starved of (yes, even you, introverts).

According to the researchers, employees who were moved to open-plan offices spent 73 per cent less time in face-to-face interactions, while email and messaging use shot up by 67 per cent.

It was the first study to track the impacts of open-plan offices by measuring the actual interaction that followed, rather than asking subjects to complete a survey. Workers in two private sector organisations were moved into a fully open-plan office environment and biometric sensors and microphones tracked how frequently and in what manner they communicated.

The office itself is likely to fight and I wouldn’t expect a large chunk of the public accountants of America to spend the rest of their days slaving over a hot laptop from the comfort of home once the vaccines arrive, but for now this is a good sign that the open office may be on the way out as management considers reopening workspaces and employee safety. Good riddance.

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2 Comments

  1. I was convinced this was about the Apache Open Office suite and was totally confused. Bad headline writers even corrected their mistake in the text instead referring to the “open plan” office.

  2. Hi, my name is Rithie. I was a staff accountant with Arthur Andersen in 1973. The “open office” plan was alive then, it was called the staffroom.
    I used to do an impression of a cuckoo clock with the coat locker and the staffroom metal ashtrays. (ASHTRAYS! Horrors!)

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