It’s never been easier for workers to collaborate—or so it seems. Open offices, messaging, and virtual-meeting software in theory make people more visible and available. But as the physical and technological structures for omnichannel collaboration have spread, evidence suggests they are producing less interaction—or less meaningful interaction—not more. This happens because individuals, not companies, decide when and how to engage with others. They become adept at shutting people out and reading signs that their coworkers wish to be left alone. Many companies don’t understand how to achieve the kinds of collaboration they want. The authors provide guidance on reaching such an understanding. Companies can use new technologies, such as sensors that track people’s movements and software that collects their digital “bread crumbs,” to learn how members of particular groups are actually interacting. They can then experiment to learn how to achieve the types of exchanges they want: trying various office configurations, testing a pilot floor plan before overhauling the entire space, and exploring the impact of small tweaks. This approach will help them equip employees with the spaces and technologies that best support their needs.

Back in 2014 a company I used to work for started plans on building a new office building. The new building was going to be open office, our current building was semi-open, in that it was cubicles but the cubicles actually blocked above the monitor. I got in touch with the committee working with the architect to better understand the request, what the architect was going to do, and to see how I could get involved. This idea of increased collaboration was really taking off in the 2000s after many large silicon valley tech companies had pushed their idea on others, but by the 2010s there was a growing amount of literature explaining just how open offices were problematic and ways to reduce these problems.

Ultimately the simplest and cheapest solution is to have higher cubicles - they block sound, allow people to not feel like they are being watched 24/7, provide enough of a barrier to prevent people from just idly chattering to each other, and for most people don’t encourage them to invest in a set of really nice noise cancelling headphones as a way to fight the noisy environment. I sent the papers, along with an executive summary as both an email and a powerpoint slide over to the architect. I presented all of this to my boss and once again to people higher up than me. Ultimately, they decided to ignore all the evidence and continue to chase their gut feeling that this will be ‘great’. I left that company before they finished their new building and landed at a new company which also had a much more open office space.

I’m glad I work remote now. These layouts suck, and the author does a great job of explaining exactly why that is very early on in the article. People aren’t stupid, and it doesn’t matter if you put them in a fucking empty box together - if they have need to collaborate, they will, and architecture is going to be one of their last concerns

…they decide, individually and collectively, when to interact. Even in open spaces with colleagues in close proximity, people who want to eschew interactions have an amazing capacity to do so. They avoid eye contact, discover an immediate need to use the bathroom or take a walk, or become so engrossed in their tasks that they are selectively deaf

Pretty sure the real reason they’re popular is because they’re way cheaper than building cubicles.

☆ Yσɠƚԋσʂ ☆

Yup, and what better way to let your employees know they’re nothing more than cattle.


This is a really smart way of thinking about it:

Why did that happen? The work of the 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot suggests an answer. He wrote that performers should “imagine a huge wall across the front of the stage, separating you from the audience, and behave exactly as if the curtain had never risen.” He called this the fourth wall. It prevents actors from being distracted by the audience and allows them to divorce themselves from what they cannot control (the audience) and focus only on what they can (the scene), much as a basketball player shoots the ball without really seeing the cheering (or booing) fans behind the hoop. It creates the intimacy of what some call public solitude. The larger the audience, the more important the fourth wall.

People in open offices create a fourth wall, and their colleagues come to respect it. If someone is working intently, people don’t interrupt her. If someone starts a conversation and a colleague shoots him a look of annoyance, he won’t do it again. Especially in open spaces, fourth-wall norms spread quickly.

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