Startup companies loaded with young and fresh out of school 20-somethings that aren't nearly as experienced as some other places, and haven't worked in a more private environment. Fresh out of school want/need collaboration and consensus. More mature and successful companies have far more seasoned teams and products — with far more senior staff.
Experienced folks that already know what they're doing, just want the solitude to do what they already know how to do, uninterrupted. What adds productivity to inexperienced folks, may take it away from the more seasoned folks. And going into a culture/environment isn't nearly as difficult as changing one.
Startups make up for less effective output per worker-hour, by making it up by just hiring younger and more junior (lower salaried) workers and making it up in headcount or hours worked. (But they get more burn-out, errors, turn-over, which again mandates more collaboration). I'd love to see a study that normalizes all those metrics.
Often kids like coffee houses and loud places to hang out, because the people around them motivate them. And if you're new and inexperienced, being able to collaborate/ask question/etc., increases your productivity. They feel like they can just pop-on headphones and everything is fine. (Of course that doesn't make you more collaborative, or make work more enjoyable place). On the other hand, if you're experienced, mature, and self-motivated, you want a quiet place to focus on your tasks -- you don't need external distractions (which can only slow you down). And if you're senior, you don't need to ask others questions, and them asking you, just means the senior and more valuable/expensive people per hour are less productive for the sake of making the Jr. people slightly more so. So you can see the win to the newbies, at the cost of a net loss to the senior folks (and company as a whole).
And if you have a dispersed organization (where the people you need to collaborate with, aren't sitting right next to you -- like most in the tech world), then there's zero benefit to this openness, but just lots of costs.
Figure 50% of the people can work in open (distracting) environments well, or even better, and 50% can not. By nature, that's a net loss.
In closed offices, the open-people can just take over a conference room or create a bullpen (so no loss to them). But those more productive in closed offices have their productivity slaughtered in the new world order. (And those are often your most senior and thus valuable people).
OpenOffices are a one-size-fits-all solution, for organizations that don't realize how distracting and how motivation/productivity destroying they are for half (or more) of the population.
If you're unlucky enough to have a company that decides Open Floorplans are a hot new productivity trend, know that you will lose good people to organizations that pay more than lip-service to worker productivity. Especially in the bay area where many can just call in rich and flip their company the bird. But the young and starting out don't have that choice, or know better. For them, strategic bookshelves, dividers, camping out in meeting rooms and labs and phone closets and finding dark corners works. Basically, make your workers play hide and seek and building forts is the defense for Corporate Bean Counters who think this is a good solution to save money and pack more people.
This "trend" isn't as bad as most people think... most can adjust. So while it is an oft heard topic of complaint, people adapt. (I just use headphones, meeting rooms, or get stuff done on weekends).
But that's the problem, the sales-pitch is a lie. It's sold as more collaborative, assuming you have no globalization and never work outside your team -- which 90% of teams do, in a modern office. So that fake excuse is openly mocked. It is really just a way to utilize floor space better and look hip with the no walls look. And it is airier... but it is about space utilization and putting aesthetics over productivity. Don't sugar coat it, don't pretend you care about your employees, don't try to sell engineers and others on the bullshit: it just pisses them off. This is strictly about aesthetics and costs, and avoiding more facilities. It is NOT about workers, and the more you make asshatted statements implying it is, the more you piss off.
So I've adapted... with slightly lower total productivity. It's just a small step backward: workers just get less work done, get sick more often (diseases transmit better), work from home more (to get some focus time), and wear headphones or put up barriers or hide in quiet places or ironically just work from the cafeterias or outside. Nothing says collaboration and talk to me, like hiding, headphones, barriers and a perpetual scowl.
The pendulum swings, in 5 or 10 years, some startup will become successful by selling the competitive advantage of private workspaces, and everyone will rush to copy the newest old trend. And we will start converting back to cubes and offices, after billions of dollars of wasted productivity and opportunity has been flushed. So the pendulum swings. And I'd rather be in an open office in a good company/team, than a private office in a shitty company/project. So companies are betting its not the biggest factor out there. And they are right.
- Apple goes Open: https://medium.com/make-better-software/apple-is-about-to-do-something-their-programmers-definitely-dont-want-fc19f5f4487
- Propaganda: http://www.businessinsider.com/15-coolest-offices-in-tech-2012-1?op=1
- https://twitter.com/stevesi/status/1059271404221276160 - Interesting conversation about a study done on open workspaces using sensors. Net effect was that face to face conversations go down, and email usage goes up.
- Walt Mossberg: Open plan is a terrible idea. Everybody is on headphones all the time. Nobody has privacy or a sense of personal place. People defend it as a consequence of working remotely. I think it actually makes working remotely more attractive.
- Steven Sinofsky: I just wish people who advocate for this in companies would just say it is cheaper. The funny thing is if they said that then a whole lot less money would be spent on Steelcase/Herman Miller "collaboration" junk.
Planners who failed at life decided that if Google/Facebook/etc. succeeded in spite of a horrendously distracted working environment, then everyone should suffer -- and Corporate America (especially Tech) started shifting to Open Office Floorplans; to the annoyance of tech workers everywhere. This was sold as "more collaborative", but there's no worker with a triple digit IQ that actually buys that, and there have been multiple studies that bear out the skepticism: workers get more quiet to keep from disturbing others (and hide away in meeting rooms or with headphones to create faux privacy). But the one-size-fits-all is attractive to the small-of-mind, paired up with the financial folks that could increase population density, without fixing facilities for parking, loading/unloading or eating. And the results have been productivity killing, increased employee friction, increased illness/sick-time, less face-to-face interaction, and more start working from home or as remote as can get away with. This will go down as proof that companies that ignore management fads operate much better than those that follow them.
Written 2012.04.24 • Edited: 2014.03.11, 2017.07.31, 2018.05.23