The 10 Worst Things About Working In An Open-Office--In Your Words
1. IT'S LOUD

"Constant, disruptive noise. Being constantly "open to chat" with my boss as apparently making eye-contact means I have time to talk about whatever is most important for him right there and then."

2. YOUR CO-WORKERS WON'T STOP INTERRUPTING YOU

"Our open space has low cubicles so I can also see the person next to me. This means, if I put on my headphones my co-worker can still wave her hands to get my attention. She does this frequently throughout the day--often to tell me about things I am intentionally trying to block out, like the phone ringing."

3. THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NO PRIVACY

"Having to hide in the stairwell to take personal calls."

4. SOMETIMES YOU JUST DON'T WANT TO TALK TO PEOPLE

"Accidentally making eye contact with the worker sitting directly across from you because the cube dividers are just a LITTLE bit too low..."

5. PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOKING AT YOUR MONITOR

"God forbid I check email or do some online shopping while I eat lunch at my desk--EVERYONE knows everything."

6. THE OFFICE ALWAYS SMELLS

"Because everyone is trying to focus and crank out their work in peace, we have become long rows of people wearing headphones all day--the exact opposite of the vibrant, collaborative space the open-office layout was meant to promote."

7. The Curse Of Headphones

"Because everyone is trying to focus and crank out their work in peace, we have become long rows of people wearing headphones all day--the exact opposite of the vibrant, collaborative space the open-office layout was meant to promote."

8. EVERYONE CAN HEAR EVERY CONVERSATION ABOUT EVERYTHING

"I HATE making phone calls when I can be overheard. Which is every single phone call I make at work. So I carefully plan my day to make zero phone calls on office days. Which is absurd and unproductive. Totally my weirdness--but if I had a door, it wouldn't happen."

9. YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE WORKSPACE

"No walls! There's no room for personalization or walls to pin things up. If I am expected to be there for 8+ hours a day… let me have some of my creature comforts. I feel transient."

10. IF YOU WANT SOME PRIVACY, YOU BETTER COME IN EARLY OR FIGHT WITH OTHERS FOR SPACE

"I arrive to work at an absurdly early hour--like 5:00 a.m. (my office opens at 9:00 a.m.) to get in a few hours of power work before I become the web surfing, distracted, silent, unproductive dork once the office fills up."

The 10 Worst Things About Working In An Open-Office—In Your Words

We asked you what you hate about your open-office layout. And you told us. Oh boy, did you tell us.

It's not surprising that many people don't like cubicle life.

But recently we've noticed a particular amount of disgust directed toward the once-revolutionary open-office layout. What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect.

Instead of asking experts who work in hyper-designed productivity palaces their opinion, we wanted to know how the everyman fares in the revolution of the open workspace.

So we asked you why you hate open-office layouts.

We received lengthy (and sometimes painful) responses from over 100 people. Below we've compiled some of the most common gripes, and our favorite responses.

1. It's Loud

Constant, disruptive noise. Being constantly "open to chat" with my boss as apparently making eye-contact means I have time to talk about whatever is most important for him right there and then.

The worst thing is the noise—you can hear people typing, sneezing, coughing, eating, taking calls, cursing, and anything and everything in between. It's hard to concentrate!

As a creative person I love to collaborate but I love solitude equally as much because distractions for me are very counter productive. I don't care if the offices are all glass and off no visual privacy, it's the ability to shut the door and keep outside noise from invading my space.

Inability to concentrate due to noise. Noise that is mostly talking. On phones. In groups. Work related. Non-work related. Blah, blah, blah blah blah. Constantly.

2. Your Co-Workers Won't Stop Interrupting You

Our open space has low cubicles so I can also see the person next to me. This means, if I put on my headphones my co-worker can still wave her hands to get my attention. She does this frequently throughout the day—often to tell me about things I am intentionally trying to block out, like the phone ringing.

For anyone in the company to get to our kitchen, they have to walk through our department because the facilities are located at the back of our work area. In the morning, everyone (and I mean EVERYone) says "Good morning" and throughout the day, they make other comments like... "It's so quiet in here!" At the end of the day... of course... it's good-bye, see you tomorrow.

NONSTOP DISTRACTIONS. I can hardly ever work uninterrupted for more than a few minutes at a time. Footballs flying, loud conversations and nowhere to hide. It takes me twice as long to do my work than if I were able to work in solace.

Repeated distractions by coworkers. "Hey, look at this Youtube video." "Hey, listen to this story I told you five times already but am going to tell it again." Nevermind the amount of time you lose during the interruption itself, but you completely lose your flow and momentum on whatever it was you were working on.

3. There's Absolutely No Privacy

You have no privacy. Sometimes you need to make personal phone calls or are having a frustrating moment, and you just need a little personal space.

Your privacy and time are no longer respected. If you're eating lunch at your desk (which you know, is sad but sometimes unavoidable), people will come up to you and ask you a long-form question even thought you just stuffed your face with a sandwich.

Having to hide in the stairwell to take personal calls.

4. Sometimes You Just Don't Want to Talk to People

If you choose to ignore these constant interruptions, you are usually marked as uncommunicative, too negative, antisocial, or something similar come review time. God forbid you show up to work to actually get some work done.

Accidentally making eye contact with the worker sitting directly across from you because the cube dividers are just a LITTLE bit too low...

5. People Always Looking At Your Monitor

Lack of privacy. God forbid I check email or do some online shopping while I eat lunch at my desk—EVERYONE knows everything.

As I'm typing comments regarding my pet-peeve about NOT having a private, closed office on Fast Company, they're not compelled to look over my shoulder and say, "Oh, cool article."

6. The Office Always Smells

People eat all types of food at all hours of the day it seems. The various smells are a distraction in themselves, not to mention chewing, throat clearing, and other bodily noises.

The smells. Oh lord, the smells. One woman wore a perfume that we nicknamed "Meemaw Roses." It was almost worse than the smells of old food. Mixed together—well, you can imagine. Real productivity killer.

7. The Curse Of Headphones

Because everyone is trying to focus and crank out their work in peace, we have become long rows of people wearing headphones all day—the exact opposite of the vibrant, collaborative space the open-office layout was meant to promote.

Somedays I need to put on my headphones to isolate myself from the "tic tic tic tic tic" noise of everyone typing. But music in my headphones is too intense and just adds other sounds and it prevents me from concentrating.

8. Everyone Can Hear Every Conversation About Everything

I HATE making phone calls when I can be overheard. Which is every single phone call I make at work. So I carefully plan my day to make zero phone calls on office days. Which is absurd and unproductive. Totally my weirdness— but if I had a door, it wouldn't happen.

9. You Have No Control Over The Workspace

An open-office means that I can't have a space that I control. I can't make it look how I want it to look. I can't listen to music without headphones. It means that all of my office environment needs are secondary to some idea of collaboration.

No walls! There's no room for personalization or walls to pin things up. If I am expected to be there for 8+ hours a day… let me have some of my creature comforts. I feel transient.

10. If You Want Some Privacy, You Better Come In Early Or Fight With Others For Space

I come into work early in the morning just to have some quiet, focused time before the insanity starts. A cubicle would actually be an improvement—right now we all work at one table, so I have an inch of personal space, and no respite from the audible distractions.

When you want to have a private conversation with your boss, you can't. Finding a private conference room is nearly impossible.

I arrive to work at an absurdly early hour—like 5:00 a.m. (my office opens at 9:00 a.m.) to get in a few hours of power work before I become the web surfing, distracted, silent, unproductive dork once the office fills up.

It's nearly impossible to book a conference room here, since everyone is driven to find a quiet space to hold a phone call, rather than conducting calls at their desk/office.

[Image: Flickr user Angelo DeSantis]

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88 Comments

  • Barbara Arrigale

    So loud you cannot hear your clients clearly. When you're trying to negotiate the fine points of a contract you do not want the world to hear you. It's personal and contractually a private conversation. I switched offices and took my clients with me.

  • Mary Tran

    It becomes really important for companies to mix it up and provided a plethora of options for their employees when they have open offices. As an employer, you ultimately want your employees to come in and be productive so in order for them to do that, you need to provide them the 'spaces' or different kinds of zones to do that. @myturnstone talks about this a lot. http://myturnstone.com/blog/office-zones/

  • As a person that is hard of hearing I hate open office space. An open office is an place that means I cannot use the telephone, AT ALL, if there is any general noise (which means when the second person is there, phone using gets much harder). Any noise means I cannot understand anything the person on the other end of line is saying. I can hear them talking, but its like the teacher on Charlie Brown. You can only ask people to repeat themselves only so many times.

  • Earl Tower

    You forgot the easy spread of germs. The worst part of working on an open network center is one person comes in with the flu because they feel they just have to be at work, then the whole place has a spreading epidemic.

  • Ken Yellig

    As for #9 no room for personalization, excuss me if I don't shed a tear, try working in a manufacturing area (where the real money is earned, for if it wasn't for the production people making something there wouldn't be a need for purchasing or sells department)

  • B-mac

    Not a fan of the open office environment either. And I'm definitely more productive without distractions and interruptions. However, I'm also happy to have a job.

  • Eylem

    Noise, people who talk all day long loudly, lack of privacy, lack of space, I feel claustrophobic with way too many people in way too small space, unhygienic, did I mention loud???

  • meanoldwoman

    At my cube farm all the exec's have offices that have doors that close and lock. Some days it's too bad they don't lock from the outside instead of the inside. All the points were spot on, and the one I would like to add is there is always one person with what ever plague is going around thinking the company can't survive with out them sharing their germs so the rest of us get it.

  • ghhshirley

    I think it depends on the kind of work one is doing. If it is data-entry, for example, or a call center for basic customer service, I would not have any problems working in an open office. However, if I have to do something that requires a great deal of focus and/or creativity, or serious in depth calls with clients, I require a private space. I am one of the lucky ones who is now self-employed and I work from home. I could never do what I do now in an open office space with all the distractions.

  • Wayne

    "The next person who says we need custom office furniture is fired!" (2010: A Leading Tech CEO, Seattle WA ) I've been in the office furniture industry for 35 years and these poorly deigned environments are customer-driven. Only customers who really desire to "attract and retain" good people will insist that supportive office environments be created and purchased. Armies of architects and designers are involved in excellent office environments but it has to be a priority of business services and company leadership. The contemporary work space doesn't have to look like Lockhart/Gardner, but it ought to be decades better than Mad Men! (FYI The Seattle tech company's average entry level employee lasts for 18 months.)

  • happilyretired

    I agree with those who said that the open office concept provides an excellent vehicle for management to micro-manage by staring over shoulders, and for those individuals who love to rat on co-workers to report to management about people who strike them as goofing off, whether that's true or not. It can be a very toxic environment, beyond the noise and distractions.

  • Richard Sanders

    When a past company I worked for went from a tall cubical environment to a short one...I can remember some of the arguments...but the one that stands out was that if management was looking for someone they had to go walking around to find them. Some people would be collaborating with others in another cubical and I think this would piss them off. Work was being done, but the project managers who couldn't get THEIR work done without input from the real worker would be seen wandering around...like a lost puppy! Now with the open office a simple glance they can find who they need, get said information, and head back to their office and close the door so that they are able to get real work done! So glad I'm not there any more. :-D

  • hkrieger

    I've worked in open offices, cubicles, two man offices, and private offices.
    Other than a private office, I found the open office (150 people in one vast space) to be the next best. The general level of noise seemed to isolate me from the neigboring desks. A two man or four man office was the worst for being able to concentrate on ones own work.

  • bjwtaylor

    Another major problem with OO and cube world is that it diminishes respect for professionals who are trying to deal with, ofen negotiate with, outsiders. If the vendor or peer or consultant hears a cacophony a round you, he/she automatically assumes you are a peon, even though you may be the executive (some companies put everyone in cubes) who will ok or ix his proposal.
    I've actually had salesman cut contact, not very poiitely, when they heard or saw that I had a cubicle, saying "I thought you were the decision-maker. I'm wasting my time." I let them walk out, even though I was the ultimate decision maker on very expensive projects.