I recently read an article on FastCo.Design, Readers Respond: Open Offices Are Terrible For Women.
It validated my feeling that an open office plan just does not work. The women in this article were telling stories about being stared at by the men and feeling really uncomfortable. I get that. And luckily for me, that wasn’t the case for my office. Though I did feel incredibly uncomfortable.
My office used to have cubicles. Silly putty colored, just tall enough to be able to look at your computer screen in peace but you could see everything when you stood up, slightly sound deflecting cubicles. I used to think, “Get me out of this boxed hell.” Now I miss it – a lot. It was a small space with no door. But it was my space.
Then the boss in all his brilliance decided to change to an open floor plan. All of the men went into their own offices – with doors – against the walls. And the women were pooled into a door-less space at a huge table. The only thing separating either side of the table was a frosted glass short enough to still allow eye contact. The luckiest of the women had her own desk up front because she was the receptionist. I sat across from my colleagues at the table of doom.
The men’s offices were all glass, ceiling to floor. So real privacy was out for everyone. But I felt that the women had been thrown back in time into a typing pool.
It wasn’t for the sake of the team. It was because we were women. There is no reason for the accountant, HR person, and contracts specialist to be huddled together at the same table.
A typical day involved trying to get work done while being interrupted a dozen times by overly loud phone calls, long personal conversations, and shouting men. Any time someone needed something, they would come to our “area” shout out their problem and wait for one of us to respond. It devalued our positions because no one bothered to address the correct person for their issues. If there was a problem, we all had to jump to resolve it. Efficient? Not really.
And if someone dared to speak to only me, they received an answer from the other side of the table before I could open my mouth. When the two women across from me weren’t listening in and commenting on my work conversations, they were talking to each other. All day, non-stop. The kids, the ex-husbands, what they bought at the grocery store. It was endless and it wasn’t about work. The times they did talk about work, it was to complain about how things were done and how much they had to do. There were never any suggestions on how to improve things, just constant bitching about it.
And there I sat, with earbuds firmly in place, 80s metal blasting away what was left of my eardrums, just to drown them out enough to try to focus. Are you thinking loud music does not equal focus? You are correct. But it was Bon Jovi or the grocery lists, the complaints, the whiney pleading with the receptionist not to transfer the client calls because they were too “busy” to talk to them. It was infuriating.
I get that the open floor plan didn’t cause this. It was always like this. But these chics didn’t sit across from me before. I knew they didn’t work. I knew they talked all day. But then it was in my face, torturing me, distracting me, and really pissing me off.
The women in the article had a hard time explaining their discomfort to their bosses. But for me, it was more difficult trying to explain that my problem was the other women. I was dismissed outright.
After I begged, on several occasions, to move my desk, or work from home one day out of the week, or move the excessive talkers into their own office, I was told by my boss – and I quote, “There is value in being in the same space as everyone else, that’s how you learn about what is going on in the company.” No, I was learning about personal stuff that I didn’t want to know about. I was learning how two-faced my colleagues really were. I was learning that my every move was being watched and judged by these two.
If I was concentrating on something it meant I was mad. So was I supposed to sit at my desk and smile at the screen all day? If I got up to go to the bathroom, I was mad. If I went to lunch and didn’t announce it, along with all of the details of where I was going and exactly what I was going to eat, I was mad at them. It was just as bad as being stared at by men. I was being labeled by the women. All because I actually worked, which no boss ever noticed because they couldn’t see past the ass-kissing, baby-voiced bullshit that my colleagues were so proficient in doling out.
I was the only problem in the office as far as my boss was concerned. I was the only one complaining.
Nope. Open floor office plans may look really cool. They just don’t work – for a lot of reasons.