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Open Offices Are The Communism Of Seating Arrangements


The highlight of any workday isn’t the time to go home. No, it’s the moments in which someone walks up and begins talking to you while you’re in the middle of getting something productive done.

It’s not malicious, it’s just the nature of the cube farm. Why send an email or an instant message when you can just walk over and collaborate? That is why you’re also guilty of being the highlight of a coworker’s day.

It starts noble enough. You’re plugging along, working on a presentation or analyzing some numbers, then someone pops in with a question about a project that involves both of you. Instantly, you’re out of the zone and stuck trying to get back in it. Or maybe your coworker is on a roll, performing a complicated task requiring a number of steps that must be performed in a specific order, and you pop over to his desk to discuss a project and pull him out of his work.

Either way, someone is getting hit, and not with the rhythm. No one argues that the cube farm is the ideal working arrangement. It does afford some privacy, with its small fences, but it also makes it easy for you to interrupt your coworkers and for them to do the same to you.

Given this—and our modern predilection for collaboration and disdain for hierarchies—workplaces are beginning to shift away from the cube farm into a more pernicious arrangement: the open office. The open office eschews even the ephemeral privacy of the cube farm and replaces it with all disruptions, all the time.

Privacy stands in the way of creative collaboration and equality. Better to have everyone sit in a big, open, wall-less space together, collaborating about ways to not get much work done. If there’s one thing the open office is actually good at, it’s that.

To Each Will Go an Identical Seat

Open offices are a disaster that reduce privacy and increase distractions. They correlate with a downturn in face-to-face interaction. Some denizens refer to them as “the worst,” since they tend to overstimulate employees in addition to their other problems.

Or maybe those are all lies. Maybe any suggestions to the contrary are the man’s attempts to control your consciousness. Only a Kulak would claim otherwise. Get with the program, we’re trying to liberate the proletariat here.

As Karl Marx wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Of course, open offices wouldn’t kill some 94 million people in pursuit of the collective good. They might, but it hasn’t happened. Yet.

Besides, when it fails to achieve a greater collective good, that’s not real Communism, but some perverted form that strips away the collaborative harmony that would arise otherwise. The real deal fosters nurturing environments devoid of hierarchies and all those other things that have been around since the dawn of time.

So, if you see some numbers like the one about 94 million dead, know it’s hyperbole masquerading as helpful truth. You could be the best you if only there weren’t pesky things like fences and walls determining your consciousness.

That is where open offices come into our new age of disruption. Why should the boss get a better chair than you? What did he do to deserve a door? Why should people be separated when instead they could be united in glorious harmony, each contributing according to his ability?

Obviously, they should be toiling side by side, with no walls whatsoever, no matter what the research says. Shifting paradigms, thinking outside the box, cascading ideas out so they can marinate, the big picture, and other buzz phrases demand it. Whereas previous generations managed to accomplish some things despite having doors, the new economy demands we bump elbows while working. So open offices it is.

That’s because this is about synergy, not results. Nobody even knows what synergy is, we just know we need to be proactive about fomenting it so it’s as impactful as possible. In doing so, we also ignore that for some people, synergy of the open office variety creates a less than energizing work environment.

Is a Hostile Work Environment Right for You?

There’s a misconception about this group. People think that they don’t like other people, that it pains them to socialize. That is untrue. Introverts can be just as social as extroverts. They can enjoy collaborating and being part of the crowd.

What’s different for them is that socializing takes energy. Extroverts, on the other hand, get a charge from personal interactions. As such, open offices aren’t exactly a hostile workplace for introverts, but they definitely aren’t ideal, unless wearing your employees down, physically and mentally, is part of your strategic plan.

Maybe it is. I’m not sure what sort of operation you’re running, and there’s a chance that defeated employees are what you’re after. They probably say “no” much less frequently, though they likely don’t offer much in collaborative sessions either. You’ll never get them to shift paradigms with that attitude!

There Won’t Be a Body Count, Most Likely

What will shift paradigms is making sure all people, not just the introverts, never develop a rhythm. Or get to take a quick break at their desks. Or do any of the jobs that are better suited to deep focus and not pitiful attempts at multitasking. Upward mobility as a source of motivation and increased productivity is just a myth. People just work for the collective good, man.

Except we can work, and do so much more effectively, when we’re not bumping elbows. But now isn’t the time to let silly studies and objective truths get in the way of lofty ideas. Much like Communists don’t let the death toll get in the way of pushing for yet another attempt at implanting the failed ideology.

Again, though, seating arrangements are unlikely to result in casualties. I can’t stress that enough. Sure, they’re egalitarian and collaborative and force people into close quarters, but most offices have more snacks than the Coral Island, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

Unless Deb from accounting finds herself seated next to Steve from sourcing and loses her cool because he interrupts her 15 times per day and ends up stabbing him with a decorative Statue of Liberty she picked up on a trip to New York.

On the one hand, it’s mildly justified, and somewhat creative and collaborative. On the other, had there been some walls, then there would have been much less blood, much more harmony, and far fewer incident reports to fill out for human resources, even if those do require teamwork and creativity.