Since the late forties, cubicles office design have dictated how we should deal with our working environment, to the point it wasn’t really a choice anymore, it was the only way to go. This has created a very large of supporters and haters: when you have no choice, people either love you or hate you. A reaction came in the late eighties and exploded later on, this reaction is the very topic around which this article has been written: open office.
What is an open office if not a slap in the face of cubicles? We hate you cubicles, you reduced our lives to boxes, making us feel like cans in a supermarket, let’s all embrace the seamless space generated by the office space, where everyone is happily sharing a completely harmonious working experience. Well, not so anymore.
These are harsh times for open space offices, although they’re still up and running all over the place and they’ve established their identity, something is cracking out of this idea, and we’re starting to hear a new wave of complaints. Why is that so? What’s going on with employees these days? Possibly it’s our egotism and the fact that, in the end of the day, we don’t like each other that much.
Open spaces became popular in the first decade of the new century, and within ten more years, we find ourselves at a point where we no longer love them so much. Of course our main reference here are tech companies in Silicon Valley. Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc. etc. have all embraced the open space trend to a smaller or larger extent. It’s almost useless to mention what kind of office layout they have adopted, and it’s the rule of thumb these days for any other tech company and more.
But maybe we have pushed things a bit too far, taking for granted that open offices were the perfect answer to the problem of enjoying our office spaces. You see, the main issue here is how happy are we in the office space, and sooner or later we must ask this question. What an open office promises you is not to feel clustered, boxed, trapped into three and a half walls that don’t even have the guts to get to the ceiling. But an open office is a disaster for privacy and focus, isn’t it?
You see and hear everyone and everything. You’re in the middle of everything, it’s possibly the most distracting way of working you can think of, it’s like sitting under the midday sun naked and with no shading, you’re exposed to whatever it’s going on around you and there’s no protection, no filter, no screen, no escape.
I’m voluntarily painting the open office as a terrible idea in order to prove my point and make you realize that there are bigger issues at stake. In fact, all those problems fade away when compared with the real issue here: we can’t stand each other.
Sharing ideas is great, communicating them also, discussing on the go, feeling in a community…wow! All great things, but have we considered for a moment that we-humans aren’t really good at that? Have we questioned the very basic assumption that all we want to do is to hug each other and tell each other funny jokes?
The open office idea is based on the fact we are very good at sharing, and we might be more creative and happy as well. In less than 20 years we have discovered that, yes, cubicles suck, but open office isn’t the real answer.
We need to rethink and mix the two, we need to change our approach and start from a different assumption: people, sometimes, enjoy getting together and sharing, yet most of the time are better off on their own. Let’s rethink the office now.