Why the Apparent Advantages of The Open-Plan Office are Devastating for Introverts

The ‘open-plan’ office, communal workspace. How does it make you feel?

It is a concept that originated in the 1950’s in Germany by a team looking to increase the flow of ideas and communication within teams and organisations.

More recent studies however are beginning to suggest that this is not quite the solution they were looking for. In fact it even perpetuates the very problem that the open-plan office purported to solve.

And these kinds of setups are detrimental for introverts and highly sensitive people. The uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation affect everyone, but have an even more significant impact on those of us who are internally orientated to the world.

In many ways the workplace is an important frontier for us to question as a part of the ‘quiet revolution’. As a place where self-confidence can be made and broken, we must address certain environments as unsuitable and even damaging to half of those people trying to work in them.

Open-Plan Offices for Introverts and Highly Sensitive People

Through Susan Cain’s research for her book, Quiet, she discovered that open plan offices are “associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure…”

And in my own reading I discovered that there is still a disconnect between what people believe to be the tangible benefits of an open-plan setup and what they say to me and my introversion.

It is still apparent that these arguments FOR such a setup are not supported by substantive research and actually create the very problems themselves for introverts and sensitive types.

In fact the only argument that makes logical sense comes from what could be described as the farming/factory perspective:

“an open-plan layout can benefit the business economically by reducing costs tied to construction, utilities and office equipment. For example, fewer walls mean less time and materials required to create the office space. Having a single work space also may reduce heating/cooling and electricity expenses thanks to improved flow of air and light. Businesses can save on equipment investment as well, since communal spaces promote shared use of resources, such as printers, copiers and staplers. An open-plan space also provides greater flexibility to accommodate evolving personnel needs”.

So why can the open-plan office be such a detrimental place for introverts and highly sensitive people? Over the past few weeks I have been speaking to introverts who work in open plan offices and boiled down their feedback to this list of problems they face:

1. Distractions

[Apparent Advantage] “A lack of walls or other physical barriers in open-plan office spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis.”

We already know that multitasking is a misnomer; that what we see as handling a lot of activity at the same time is actually the process of constant switching between contexts.

Switching costs us focus. Distractions lower our ability to perform significantly. Open plan offices are by nature a breeding ground for distraction and for introverts who already get more overwhelmed by stimulating environments there are fewer places more distracting than one room full of busy people.

There is an increasing culture of ‘flagging’ in open offices, which is hugely helpful for remaining focussed. You indicate how immersed you are in your work, and how available you are to talk. With a simple traffic light system you can communicate the state of play. Luxafor have developed some innovative tools to do this. With LEDs, you can attach it to your computer via USB, or to another surface with Bluetooth, so co-workers know when you’ve ring-fenced time to chat, and time to work. This can be pre-programmed as well as used when you spontaneously hit your flow.
Learn more here.

2. Being Observed/Listened To

It’s hard enough to make a phone call without the knowledge that someone else is listening in. Let alone knowing that EVERYONE is listening.

It’s not simply the case that you need to have important and private conversations without being distracted.

It is actually the case that we are less effective at the task in hand when we are being observed or listened to doing it. In the kind of environment where this is constant it acts as a perpetual drain on our internal battery.

3. Goldfish Bowl

[Apparent Advantage] “Interactions in an open-plan office space generally are more frequent and informal than in closed environments where everyone has a separate office space.”

We all have those days when we just need to head into work, buckle down quietly and just get on with work. When we just need to ‘introvert’ for a while to re-energise.

Ironically an attempt to ‘introvert’ in an open plan office is often met with even more interaction. Co-workers sending messages or popping by your desk to see what’s wrong and ask why you’re being so quiet.

4. The Rumour Mill

If you need to have a one on one conversation with another worker or boss it becomes a big deal because you need to go elsewhere to find somewhere private. Even if you’re talking about something small, everyone can see and it will appear like a big deal.

This can be a catalyst for gossip and rumour, especially as you can’t talk openly about it afterwards without everyone hearing.

5. Advice From All Angles

[Apparent Advantage] “Colleagues can turn to each other for advice or assistance without having to knock on doors or schedule a formal meeting.”

Being able to get advice from others and talk through problems is helpful. But when everyone’s invited it can be irritating and even un-nerving (you don’t want everyone knowing what you want help with).

It doesn’t take long before a question to your neighbour has made it around the whole room and EVERYONE knows about your little medical problem, offering you unsolicited advice on what you need to do.

6. Creative Breathing Space

[Apparent Advantage] “The increased collaboration resulting from an open-plan work space can lead to business innovation and advancement”.

It is an idealistic belief that creativity comes from open working and a collaborative environment that takes the shape of an open-plan office. It makes sense in our minds because we join the dots – two minds are better than one when it comes to solving a problem.

What we don’t take into account however is the circumstances in which the one mind is most effective BEFORE it comes to the point of sharing.

For introverts we need time to think, to ruminate on ideas and concepts before we are comfortable sharing what we think about them. We are the opposite to extroverts who think by verbalising. We need that focussed time to go inwards before we are ready to share. An open-plan situation strangles this potential.

7. Fewer Personable and in Depth Relationships

[Apparent Advantage] “The constant intermingling not only generates a sense of camaraderie among personnel, it also enhances the flow of information and teamwork.”

According to Susan Cain those who work in open plan offices have “fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues”. 

There are fewer opportunities to get one on one, open up and actually get to know co-workers at a deeper level. It is not good for camaraderie when we all just have surface level relationships that don’t have any chance of deepening.

This can also contribute to back-biting and bitchiness, as well as a passive aggressive atmosphere and culture in office politics.

8. Air Conditioning and Music Wars

Cain also says of open offices that “they’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates, releases cortisol… and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive and slow to help others”.

There are certain collective stimuli in open office environments that can be a huge cause for contention. I know some places where they plumb music through the entire room and allow different people to decide what goes on. Obviously this is not going to be to everyone’s liking and can be very distracting for those who can’t concentrate when there is music playing.

Then there is the environmental comfort elements such as air conditioning/heating, lighting etc.

When people in the office are responsible for making decisions over these factors there will be a potential problem. Mixed with the social distance, quick anger, aggression, and slowness to help others things could quickly turn sour.

We need to find a better way than the open plan office. If we’re truly going to thrive as introverts in the workplace we need to question where and how we are expected to work. It’s a conversation worth having because society has many completely misguided and false assumptions about what makes for a conducive and creative workspace.

Open offices can be a complete disaster for introverts (and others!) Until we turn the tide, tools like those being developed by Luxafor can at least provide some boundaries to help us work without being disturbed from 9 until 5. Learn more about the gadgets they are building here.

Productivity tool

Over to You

Have you ever worked in an open office environment? How did/do you find it? Please leave your response in the comments below.

  1. Unfortunately I am in a glass-walled office. Any person walking by is compelled to interrupt my work by waving, saying hello or telling me something that has nothing to do with work. It is absolutely the strangest thing I have ever seen. I have tried closing my glass door but the behavior does not change, the person just opens the door and interrupts with things that have nothing to do with work. I have tried wearing headphones but the person just stands there until I take the headphones off for them to tell me something that has nothing to do with work. I hope any employer out there considering office space layout will seriously research options before anything is built – this decision may have a tremendous impact on productivity.

    1. Oh Jennifer, that sounds horrific! Such a bizarre mixture. I wonder what their reasoning was for building that. Please do share if you find any techniques that work better for you. I bet you’re not the only one suffering under such circumstances.

  2. I am working in one now as a software developer. I am also diagnosed with mild autism. Although I am sitting there only two of the four days I am working each week, it is a living hell most of the time. Even noise cancelling headphones do not block all the sound and there is the constant visual stimuli and distractions of random people passing through. I am often agitated, do not connect with my (noisy) team, cannot concentate, can solve problems less. I am thinking of quitting because of just that. Right now I can feel I am heading for a burnout.
    Fuck the open office plan.

  3. So true. Currently the place I work in is so annoying it hurts. It is an open-space office and if there would be some alternative I would jump to it immediately without thinking.

    – Total Herdiness: It is like being in a sect. When someone says something “funny” everyone laughs. Especially if the joke comes out of some high-ranking jerk. It reminds me of those huge herds of small fish, how they always all manage to turn at one single time. Individualty and independence is shunned, when someone is not talking/acting in the way as expected he becomes a class enemy.

    – Constant babbling: All. Day. Listening. To. An. Absolute. Bull*hit. There are always people who are in love with their own voice and have to talk whole day. And when there is nothing to talk about still they talk so there is not a minute of silence. Sigh. It is like they are all playing game that is named “Keep talking or something explodes”

    – No place for creativity: This is SO true. I realised that when I have to work in the midst of bunch of constantly talking people I am unable to think properly. It like I am blocked. My work suffers and creativity? No way.
    Summary: Open space type office is hell designed by Soros in order to destroy whole civilisation.

  4. It’s not just open spaces such as call centres but sharing a space where you cannot concentrate when you need to, on your own timeline. My colleague in my shared office invites people in to have conversations, seems to time her phone calls for when I’m having one of mine which for some reason, throws me. She will initiate conversation at any time – about 50% of it work related, but still – there is no ability to concentrate, or my concentration gets thrown constantly. I detest it and if I want to get ANYTHING done, I have to stay late when she’s gone. I work as an analyst, writer and work alot with numeric data. I have never been able to acclimatize to shared spaces and have quit more than one job due to the working environment, and have turned down great jobs because of the working space. Headphones and music just serve to replace one distraction with another. I like quiet. Quiet & productivity are linked, in my experience.

  5. Now I know why I quit my job 2 years ago, after only working for less than 30 days. It was “Open Space”, a call center, with multiple teams working on different projects. Unlike other teams, mine was conducting some research, so we did not pick calls from clients, we actually made the calls. An automated system dialed numbers for you each time you completed a call, and to fully complete the research questionnaire you had to hold the conversation for approx. 15 min. Think of it, you are randomly calling people who will obviously be doing something and you have to convince them to stay on the line for 15 minutes while you ask them questions about themselves and their households. Some would be really unkind, angry and rude. In addition I had to work 10 hours a day, public holidays inclusive. A week in I started feeling really sick, my work performance dropped, I would complete close to half the calls my workmates could. I always knew I was very introverted, so I had picked a desk in a hidden corner near the alley to the washrooms so I could silently escape every now and then. But up to now I had never figured out why I woke up one morning and wrote to my boss that I was no longer coming. I have been working from home since then, I headed straight for self employment but intend to get a normal job soon. Now that I know what really happened, open space or not, I am ready for what’s to come ahead.

    1. Oh man, yeah that sounds about right! I lasted 6 weeks in a call centre doing market research. Just about the worst possible job for me doing what sounds like a very similar thing. Surveys of customers of a bank – just a random call would kick in and it would be one after another after another. And if you failed to complete enough surveys in a day the managers would be asking serious questions. It’s horrible isn’t it. It’s good that you got out of it! Well done. And I hope you manage to find something that really suits you in the future!

      Thanks for sharing! I feel your pain.

  6. I have been working for two years in an office where I share a space with 30+ other people who can all hear what you’re saying to coworkers and people on the phone. It took me a long time to figure out why I constantly felt uncomfortable and like I wasn’t connecting with anyone in my office. It has dawned on me that it’s being in an open office. This is the first job where I’ve worked in this type of office space. I’ve mostly worked for very small organizations where it was cozy and you could have deeper conversations without feeling like the whole world is listening in. I feel relieved on the one hand because I finally know why I’ve been struggling to connect at work. But then it begs the question of what to do about it because I do like my actual job; I just wish I could do it in an office where my department is private. The worst part is that right now we have tall cube walls and they are switching them out to lower walls where you will see everyone’s head as you scan the room. So it’s going to get worse! But I’m glad to finally know WHY I’ve struggled so much and why everyday feels like I’m in that awkward place of just getting to know people I’ve seen everyday for two years. It’s because we’ve only scratched the surface in getting to know each other. Thanks for writing this. It has been very helpful.

    1. I’m glad you’ve reached that understanding of why you feel comfortable and like you’re not truly connecting with anyone. Sounds like a really frustrating environment to work in, and it’s made all the more frustrating by the fact that you like your job. Would there be any potential for having a word with those making the decisions about this stuff? So often they’re just deciding to do these things based on bad information, and obviously a lack of input from more introverted team members. Depending on the level of access you have to those people, and how willing/receptive they are, you might be able to help them see the other side to that…it’s not good for productivity, and it’s not good for bringing out the best in the introverted colleagues.

      So frustrating! Hope you manage to get something changed. Rooting for you!

  7. I hate open offices, when you want to speak to someone 1 on 1 you feel really awkward, everyone turns to listen and there is a guy who butts in with know it all advice. Also a couple of them tend to start talking and go on and on, really distracting and some people hang over the side of your desk while talking to someone else or they sit talking while looking at your screen, one guy even comes over staring at screen asking what you doing today, well none of your god damn business is my thought. Really hate them. Ironically the bosses all have their own offices.

    1. Yes! That’s a really good point. I hate having private conversations overheard, especially when you feel that guy looking at you, just waiting to impart their advice. Feeling your pain here. I’ve known people exactly like this. So frustrating!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. My new job has an open office plan but I was lucky enough when I started to get placed in a seat in the corner, next to a window, and I arranged my monitors so as to build myself a little “wall” so I didn’t even have to see anyone else if I didn’t want to. It wasn’t ideal, and I desperately missed my office at my old job, but it was tolerable.

    Today I was told they’re moving our department to the very center table of the office. Nowhere near windows, or corners. I’m panicking. Everything you wrote is me to a T. I don’t love my job, but how do I even go about applying for a new one where my main stipulation will be “PLEASE don’t put me in the middle of a group of people all day”?

    1. Thank goodness for corners! I always find myself naturally gravitating towards corners. Sounds like you had some luck there within the context of the open plan. Not so much now though. I hate it when I feel like people can see my screen, or even just having people behind me. Being in the middle is the absolute worst place for us. I hope you manage to find a new corner somewhere. Fight for it!

  9. Just wanted to thank you for the article and also thank all the posts in the discussion. I had to go through two open space offices to figure out that the problem is the environment – not the content of the agenda! Thanks to the open space I am now on at least month long sick leave, take antidepressants and have panic attacks. Thanks a lot, modern open space office! It will take me months to get back on my feet..

    1. Thanks P. Man there are some crazy stories from people about the pains of open office space. Awful that it causes these kinds of results. I hope you manage to recover and find some respite in your time off and that you can get a more suitable work environment when you return to work.

  10. Thank you for your post, Andy. After reading an article on the subject, I started researching the impact of open office environments on introverts and found your post. I too (Martha) worked in a global consumer electronics company in Silicon Valley and do not think that the word “devastating” is overkill at all. I suppose it depends on how introverted one is and the size of your window (a window sounds really lovely). I spent over three years in that open environment with only frosted windows a row of people away, or at one point, only two frosted skylights. I managed a decent sized team, and if I wasn’t in an open room, I was in meetings. If I took lunches, they were with people. I commuted on a shuttle full of people. When I began that job, I was on fire. I was overflowing with ideas. I was thanked for defusing conflicts in meetings. I developed a successful department. But after three years, my spirit was completely deteriorated. There was no room for recharging in my life. Not enough to calm myself from all that stimulation, anyway. It constantly felt like an overcharge of electricity was surging through my veins. I hated Sundays because tomorrow was Monday. Eventually, my supervisor told me I’d become hostile. With no understanding of what had happened to me, I gave my notice. I now work at home for myself for a fraction of the income, but am once again a peaceful person, full of creativity. I’ve turned down work at companies most people would die to work for because of the open-plan office. I’ve tried it as a contractor and now just turn down work if I can’t do it offsite. It’s just not for me. And thanks to articles like yours, I no longer blame myself or anyone for it. I found what works for me and I’m much happier now. Woohoo!

    1. What an amazing story – so inspiring to read that you made that decision to work at home and have re-discovered your peace and creativity. It’s bizarre what offices can do to us. Then can turn us into aliens! I think they damage many people without them necessarily realising, or perhaps without the impact being quite so obvious. They slowly chip away at our inner-most beings. So glad to know that you’ve found that sweet spot now! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Thanks for the insightful article – I have read it and all the comments through. Thank heavens; there are people like me in this world!
    I’ll be moving into an open plan office soon after working in an enclosed environment for nearly 5 years; and at my own request too, so that I’ll be working in the same space as my teammates again. However, I cannot say I am unconcerned. My main dread is the feeling of exposed – constantly being observed and overhead. I can identify with one of the comment: when making a call to my father, at my own home, I have to go into an empty room.
    It is difficult to say if I am more productive when working alone or in an open office. But one thing I’ve noticed is that I have had far less sick leaves while working in my current enclosed workspace.
    My experience of using ear phones to reduce the noise in the open office may be different from other people: the use of the ear phone do reduce the noise, but they also (for me) makes other peoples’ conversation a lot clearer; lower volume but definitely better signal quality. I once mentioned this to a colleague of mine in a noisy conference hall; he thought I was absolutely a weirdo. I have tried playing quiet music through the ear phones but I’d definitely feel exhausted within an hour…

    1. So great to hear your thoughts on this Tigger! Really interesting! All the best with that move – hope it has some positive aspects. I must admit I don’t find ear phones the most helpful. I know exactly what you mean as well.

  12. This article is great. I am a very introverted person. When I first graduated, believe it or not , I had my own office as the company had lots of space in the building. I got work done and loved my job. (Civil/Structural Engineer). I moved to another company with better wages and more chance of progression, however this was in an open plan office with colleagues sitting to the left and right of you. There was about 20 people in the office. I absolutely hated it to the point where I got mild depression and couldn’t face going to work. I loved my job but hated being exposed, listened to or watched all day. A simple phone call become a nightmare with people listening in, in fact phone calls were torture. I lasted about 10 months and resigned, made the mistake of taking another job within a consultancy environment which was also open plan, hoping that it was going to be better, but it was just as bad or worse. Lasted one month. I have concluded that I never want to work in an open plan office ever again. I’d rather have my old job back and be stuck on a lower salary for the rest of my life and no progression than work in an open plan office.

    1. It’s so frustrating when a job/role you love is ruined by the environment in which you are forced to work. The phone call thing is horrible! It pains me to hear that great people are underused simply because of poor workplace set ups.

      1. It does my friend. Having worked in both, my own office and in an open plan office. I can confidently say that I am much more effective in my own office. In an open plan office before every action I do or anything I say I analyse it first because I know people are listening or watching. Even before picking up the phone I run the conversation over and over in my head because I dont want to make a fool out of myself by saying something stupid with people listening in. In my own office I just pick up the phone and talk naturally to people. Open plan offices are hell for introverts like myself. Good website 🙂

        1. Agree wholeheartedly! I do exactly the same with phone conversations. Just can’t stand being overheard. Even around family I will leave the room to take or make a call. Thanks!

  13. Hi, I’m not sure if this thread is still being read, but I would like to thank you firstly for this article, it has really helped me put things in perspective. I recently started a new job, great wages, should have been able to do it with my eyes closed…..6 weeks in I had to resign. Due to uncontrollable panic attacks, anxiety and then depression. 4 months on I still have panic attacks almost ptsd when I think about the office. I still have an aversion to my pc. I knew the office environment was a key player in my problem but hadn’t figured out why……Now I know. It was an open plan office with different sections for the various departments. Each department seemed to be aggressive to the other and even to each other within each team. I do consider myself to be quite sensitive and working here was – as I see now – a huge mistake. Again I thank you for offering some clarification.

    1. Thanks Tara! Yes the thread is still read, and there seems to be people still landing on the article, which is great. Sorry to hear that you had to resign from your job – sounds like a horrific experience, after working in a horrific situation. It’s not good when there is aggression and competition within and between departments in a workplace. This can be especially draining and damaging for those easily stimulated and sensitive to the subtleties! You’re very welcome – I hope you you find something more suitable soon! Thanks for sharing. Andy

    2. Thank you for this reply, Tara. I started having panic attacks and major anxiety 4 months ago (6 months after starting a job similar to how you described yours). I’ve gone from having my own office for 10+ years to being in a very open office plan… front and center, first cubicle when you walk into the office. As an introvert, I’m just now realizing how detrimental this has been for my health. Financially I need a full time job, but my health is suffering. Tara, I hope you’ve been able to find something better suited for you 🙂

      Thanks for this article, Andy!

  14. After a week in an open office I’m exhausted and don’t want to socialize. Coming home after a day I don’t want to hear about my wife’s day. It’s hell for introverts.

    1. Urgh it sounds like you have a particularly overstimulating environment to work in. It’s not good when you just need to curl up in a ball and have no one talk to you when you get home.

      1. I took more breaks this week. I think if the general population was more aware it would be better. Thanks for sympathising.

  15. I currently work in on open office space directly in back of a Chatty Cathy.. She is contastantly babbeling about her kids, dogs, husband, husbands job, neighbors and relatives. If her phone rings in mid story she actually tells her audience to “hold on”.
    i am so stress out i can’t concentrate at all.. I am currently looking for another job.

    1. Ouch that sounds painful, Karen! Very stressful – why do people think that everyone wants to hear every little story. It’s a funny thing that often on the surface people may think quieter people ‘boring’ but actually it’s those that just don’t stop talking about inane nonsense (and believe that you want to hear it!) that are really boring. Hope the job hunt goes well and quick!

  16. I am fast approaching my 50th birthday and am experiencing my first open plan office. I have been here 6 months. I love my work and feel I am making a difference, but I feel besieged daily by the human and non-human stimuli that surrounds me daily. Because I work in the city, I take the train. Commuting in my car used to be one of my coping mechanisms with other jobs, but commuting by car into the city means gridlock and stress, not conducive to the quiet “ramping up and ramping down” time I need. SO, I get to crowd onto a platform and pile onto a train as a precursor to my days in open environment hell. As an introverted and extremely highly sensitive person, I go home exhausted every night and don’t even want to interact with my husband and dogs. I simply have nothing left for any other entity. I soak up all the emotional energy floating around me, headphones or not. I can still SEE everyone (our “walls” are barely dividers) and the amount of glass here intended to encourage more openness means I get distracted by reflections and motion all around me at all times. The icing on the cake is that I am a supervisor who sits RIGHT NEXT to my staffers. If this sucks for me, I can only imagine what it’s like for them. Can you tell I HATE THIS??!!!

    1. Man, I feel stressed just reading your current experiences. It’s so frustrating that these are aspects that have very little to do with the job itself. You can love your job but when the commuting and work environment overwhelms and drains you it can be a nightmare. So sorry to hear that you’re struggling. Is the open plan environment something there is scope to change in time? As you say, I bet there are others who feel similar to you! I find travel to be one of the most stressful things – driving in congestion and gridlock urgh, but then travelling on bsy public transport…urgh! That’s why I love the German train system in Berlin – the most beautiful running thing that leaves no stress (in my experience at least!)

  17. I have pros and cons with both environments – I actually do need help a lot since I’m a graduate so I have to ask people for help all the time with SAS and SQL and it is a bit embarrassing and then everyone hears when I say “I don’t completely understand that can you show me again”. So I just pretend to understand and then end up procrastinating because I don’t know what to do. Sound travels far in our office so you hear someone’s, four rows down, conversation. People fight a lot about aircon but that will always be a problem I guess. All the noise, telephones, conversations around me, printer, bathrooms etc. reduces my ability to concentrate and think, so I’m less productive and make more mistakes. An advantage for me of the open office is that I work a lot with other departments so I can just ask someone a quick question a quick question opposite me or a row down for me which saves time – maybe that reduces their productivity but it helps me a lot. I also like the open office because of different chats (even though I don’t always take part) I know my colleagues much better and don’t feel so estranged and lonely because as an introvert I struggle to make friends which makes me feel lonely at work. If I had to sit in an office on my own I would probably procrastinate a lot and retract into myself much more ( be in my own world all the time which isn’t always good) but I also find open offices distracting so no solution for me. Functional spaces maybe with glass panels that separates small teams of 5 – 8 from all the other people. I must good quality active noise cancelling headphones has helped me tremendously! Life saver. SO when I put them on people leave me alone, I can concentrate, playing soft classical music because I cant concentrate with words and can take them off, walk 5 steps and ask someone something.

  18. I hate open plan offices because everyone knows exactly when I’m there and when I’m not. People need breaks regularly, but I feel like I’ll be judged if I’m gone for longer than it takes to use the bathroom. (A previous boss actually said the longest I’m allowed away from my desk at one time!)

  19. This is why I no longer work in an open plan office. Of course, the managers always seem to make sure they retain their private offices. It impacts your ability to think and ultimately do your best work.

    1. Haha, that’s a good point. Maybe that’s the incentive – work hard and one day you too will have the opportunity to go for a promotion and get your hands on some personal space.

  20. Andy, I work for a large, global consumer electronics company in Silicon Valley, and I am an introvert. A few years ago, my company went from cube farms to an open office environment and I was PISSED! I complained incessantly and read tons of articles like yours and insisted that I was basically going to die in an open office environment. Honestly though, it’s really not that bad! Do I miss having a cube? Yes. Is it unbearable for me to be out in the open like that? Nah. Not at all. It’s certainly not anything close to as awful as I thought it would be. Granted, I have an excellent location, and maybe that helps. I am at the window end of the very first row, so there is no one behind me and I have a nice, sunny view to my right. Plus, I have a storage desk to my left so there is no one directly next to me either. I really, really like my coworkers and my boss, so I don’t mind having them nearby and across from me. They tend to use what we call huddle rooms (formerly offices) for their meetings and calls, so noise is to a minimum. When I need to “escape” I take a walk, and sometimes I even go sit in the bathroom and read for a while to decompress, as weird as that sounds. Finally, if people get too chatty and loud, I have no problems asking them to please move so I can focus, or suggest they perhaps go into a huddle room. I guess my point, and I’m saying this as someone who is quite introverted, is that introverts shouldn’t automatically assume it would be awful without ever trying it. Sometimes things aren’t as bad as you think they’ll be. Having been on both sides of the coin, I think the term “devastating to introverts” is a bit of overkill here.

    1. Try moving to a desk in the middle somewhere, with colleagues either side.

      There’s a reason why King’s used to put their thrones against the wall – so no one could creep up behind and stab them. Simple psychology. When you know someone could be behind you a part of your brain is always scanning for potential threats. Shielded by a wall at the back, cabinet to the side, and a window to look out of will reduce the levels of psychological stress for sure.

      1. Yeah, agreed. I had a space similar to Martha’s and it was easier to endure than another, absolutely exposed space near the kitchen – where I was miserable and unproductive in equal measures. People would come up behind me and comment on what I was working on. Others, rude buggers with offices who COULD have had their loud conversations in the luxurious privacy of their own space, would stop to talk right in front of me as I was writing to a deadline (which I always was). I wanted to icepick them in the head. There must be something in the Geneva convention.

  21. Great post! I currently work in an open office environment. I sit right next to a large conference room where people are constantly coming and going. I find I need to get up from my desk and walk away on occasion just to give myself some escape

  22. Thank you Andy! I struggle with the open office plan as an introvert and a leader of a large work team. Just this week I had an employee who was very frazzled from his workload and the distractions and disruptions while working from his cubicle. I was able to find him a quiet office with a door that he could borrow for a day and this seemed to be just what he needed. I am working to formalize this quiet space so that he and others can reserve it as needed. Keep up the great work! David@quietandstrong.com

  23. Fantastic post. I couldn’t work in one of those open office plans. As it is, I have an office, but you have to walk through mine to get to my boss’ and there is constant traffic all day long. Not to mention being overheard/observed constantly – I try to wait until my boss is not there to make phone calls or else she will join in the conversation trying to be helpful. It’s not. I’m both reception and executive assistant in one, so between the phone and guests and my own people, I have little focus time in the day to work on what I need to do. I can’t even fathom working in a space where there were more people, lights, sound, etc.

    1. Thanks Amy! Sounds like a high traffic job that you do! I hate being overheard on the phone. I always get very self-conscious – I’d find it difficult to have someone trying to ‘help out’. Like when a person in the room is whispering and motioning for you to say or ask something to the person at the other end. Completely confusing and overwhelming! Haha.

  24. Great post, Andy. I worked in “open space” for years and didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until I got away from it. At the time, I didn’t know I was a Highly Sensitive Person and an Introvert, but looking back, I’m just glad I survived it. I worked a lot of long, tough days and can remember coming home literally shaking inside from all the noise, chatter, phone calls and fellow employees and stress from the kind of “customer service” job I was doing. I’m thankful to finally understand why, and know not to get myself into that kind of environment again – partially thanks to you, Andy. Bless you.

    1. Thanks Terrie! Well done for surviving the open space for so long! It can really take its toll. Must be nice to look back and be able to say ‘ahhh, i get it now!’ 🙂 Thank you for your insight 🙂

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