Why open offices aren’t the answer

Kristen had finally landed her dream job as an auditor for a large San Francisco-based managed care consortium. She was ecstatic. She loved the position’s competitive pay, ample vacation and parking reimbursement.

Things couldn’t have been any better — that is, until her first day on the job when her supervisor ushered her over to her new office, a 64 square foot cubicle. “In that moment, I thought I was going to hyperventilate,” she said. “I’ve never worked in an open space like this. There is absolutely no privacy.”

Kristen went from being on cloud nine to feeling devastated about her new office space. She’d traded that quaint office at her former employer for one in an open-office floor plan. The quiet she’d come to appreciate was replaced by her co-workers’ constant keyboard strokes, laughter and seemingly endless chatter.

To make matters worse, Kristen, a chronic allergy sufferer, was concerned she’d ruffle co-workers’ feathers with her constant sneezing and nose-blowing. She made a mental note to keep ample Zyrtec and Kleenex in her drawer.

Kristen is among scores of workers across the country who bemoan the open workspace model as obtrusive. Yet, to managers of Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay, the open floor plan is the Holy Grail.

Square founder and CEO Jack Dorsey got the memo. On a given day, Dorsey can be found at his standing workstation, smack in the center of an open office framework, according to a report from Slate. Dorsey shares the logic of his Silicon Valley counterparts who feel the model promotes accessibility and transparency.

In 2013, two professors at the University of Sydney surveyed 42,000 office-workers to find roughly 50 percent of open-office workers complain about a lack of sound privacy and 30 percent a lack of visual privacy in the same context.

The same year, Gensler and architecture firm surveyed 2,035 workers nationwide to find only one in four U.S. workers are actually working in spaces that optimally promote productivity. According to the study, management’s strategy to improve workplace transparency and collaboration are ineffective, as they compromise workers’ ability to focus, which drives down their productivity.

With no sign of a prohibition on open-office floor plans in sight, workers like Kristen are forced to adapt to the open office space culture. If this is you, don’t worry. Click through the slides above for some tips designed to help you adapt.

Kia Croom