Let’s Just Accept the Truth That Open Offices Were a Dumb Idea

Open offices haven’t been around nearly as long as the “open concept” home, but many office dwellers have complained about them from the beginning. For accounting firms in particular, the open office concept is pretty much the worst possible environment to stick a bunch of introverts into under some misguided belief it will increase “collaboration” and harbor feelings of oneness. All it does is drive earbud sales on Amazon.

We’ve been ragging on open offices for years, like since before I got fired last time years. And Reddit has some things to say about it, too. The main complaint seems to be noise pollution, in the same way that as I’m writing this, my cat is sitting next to me loudly licking his junk and I’m having trouble writing down coherent thoughts. Hopefully none of you in open offices have to deal with noisy junk-licking in your space, but the endless conversations among colleagues that don’t involve you is just as distracting, if slightly more appropriate for a work environment.

The worst part is that the financial geniuses who deployed open offices to pack as many bodies as possible into the smallest amount of square footage to save a few bucks actually had the nerve to say they did it because young people demanded such work spaces. As the oldest of the “young people,” let me say: bullshit. I had my own office at my last job with a door and everything, and let me tell you, that shit was glorious. I could zone out on work, listen to The Whisper Song on repeat, fart, scroll through my endless camera roll of cat pictures, what the hell ever. Like yeah it got lonely some times, but that was the entire point.

So, we’ve established open offices are the worst. Now, new research from Harvard shows just how much the worst they truly are.

From CPA Australia:

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.

Some have declared the study’s findings as the death-knell for open-plan offices, as research builds on the disadvantages of the design.

OK so the idea of a bunch of scientists strapping Fitbits on office drones and tracking them like literal rats in a maze is a bit creepy, but it does show that this environment actually inhibits communication rather than promote it. And no shit, when you have to listen to the losers around you belching up lunch and mumbling to themselves all day long, who wants to actually speak to them?

And don’t even get us started on hoteling. In a modern world where we young people (friendly reminder: the oldest millennials will be turning 40 in a few years and please don’t remind me) are getting married later in life or not at all and foregoing homeownership to live the life of untethered nomads burdened only by crushing debt and precocious midlife crises, putting down roots is more important than ever. But nah, not only did they take away walls and doors, in some offices you don’t even get a desk. My God, even in preschool we at least had a big bucket with our name on it.

Despite the obvious fact that open offices were a mistake, I wouldn’t expect them to go anywhere anytime soon. The accounting industry being reactive at best and last to adapt at worst, I’m sure firms will continue giving tone-deaf, self-congratulatory interviews to local business journals about their fancy new open offices for years to come.

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