The "Open Space" office trend; or, "Our house is on fire!"

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the_mad_man
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05 Oct 2016, 5:48 pm

I don't post here very often, but I have a topic of great importance to discuss.

I have been working for nearly a decade as a professional software developer. I know that I'm in a field with many other Aspies, and I have seen posts about this problem before.

Friends, to put it dramatically, our house is on fire! We are rapidly becoming unemployable in the modern office workspace.

At the moment, I am unemployed because a contract ran out. To blow my own horn, I am very talented at what I do and deliver outstanding value for my employers and clients, but nearly everywhere I go, I see companies transitioning to "open office" spaces. These are equivalently called "bullpens", "team rooms", "hackerspaces", "makerspaces", or anything "collaborative".

I don't need to repeat how sensitive we Aspies are to our environment. We value our privacy and we are quick to retreat from noise and any other noxious stimuli. However, NTs think that it's weird, and even if they don't think it's weird, they cannot, or will not understand how it affects us.

Honestly, I feel sick just imagining being in one of these awful places for eight hours a day. I've been to interviews where the company work environment is literally a long table with rows of chairs. I have been told that some of the most desirable companies to work for use this setup because they believe that it leads to "collaboration".

Let me be clear, I have no qualm with working "collaboratively". What I have a problem with is being forced to sit at a desk on an "island" or a workbench where I'm constantly haunted by the people stepping around me, where I am forced to listen to every little detail of Sue's cellphone conversation with her long-distance boyfriend, where I can't get out of line-of-sight of ping-pong players. I am unemployable in such an environment.

Most of us are unemployable in such an environment, and we damn well know it.

In spite of the lies spread by people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bob Iger who demand unlimited immigration from low-income countries to compensate for an imaginary talent shortage in the USA, competition for desirable software writing jobs is fierce! If I cannot tolerate an "open space" office, there are 10 other people who can who want the job.

In short, our house is on fire! If this trend continues, we face perpetual unemployability no matter how talented we are. A quick Google search indicates that here in the USA, 70% of companies have already transitioned to open office plans.

Let me point out that if I needed to use a wheelchair to move about and my wheelchair wouldn't sit comfortably next to the desk, the courts would demand that the employer make a "reasonable accomodation". So how is it that we can be put in environments that are intolerable for us as Aspies and then be told that we're SOL.

The subtext for this forum says that at work, you'll be stuffed into a depressing box called a cubicle. Today, you're lucky to get a cubicle! As Dilbert pointed out, the open plan office is the only thing that could possibly be worse than cubicles.

We need to do something about it, but I don't know what that thing is. Any ideas?



slave
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18 Oct 2016, 10:51 pm

Excellent post!
I can't believe no one responded to you. 8O
I agree with every word you've said, fwiw.

I have encountered ppl in IT that are "location independent" and can literally work from anywhere with appropriate bandwidth. Some work from home, some even move from nation to nation.

Is this possible with your skill set?


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izzeme
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19 Oct 2016, 2:54 am

I have noticed that listening to music helps me in open plan offices.
I will usually grab a seat as far away from the walking routes as possible, back to a wall (wall, not window) and build my little fortress.

Now, i am a software tester, not a developer, so i do not need that much interaction with the rest of the office, but i am usually thr stand-in tech support of wherevet i get stationed for the next project, which is a bit annoying



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19 Oct 2016, 5:38 am

I can't bear open plan offices. And it's not because of the sound, I'm not that sensitive. It's constantly having my "dealing with people"-program on standby. I can't do that and do my job simultaneously.

The reason I didn't reply to this is that I have no idea what to do about it. Few WPers are high level managers.


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zer0netgain
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19 Oct 2016, 3:30 pm

As long as we have a growing problem with good-paying full-time jobs in America, the businesses will exploit it to their advantage.

Only when there is a true shortage in skilled labor do the workplace conditions come up on their own.



Sheila Nye
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20 Oct 2016, 9:59 pm

Open space offices originated with someone who hates us. No, not really. I hate everything about it. And yes, if we ask we should be given ADA accommodations.



somerandomname53
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29 Oct 2016, 3:29 pm

It's frustrating, but not something you can easily change. This trend is not because "someone hates us" or immigration, or even the oft-quoted "communication improvement", it's for one simple reason: money. It's cheaper to house 50 people in a large open-floor space then it is to give them all offices in small groups.

Besides the obvious solution of finding a place with a different layout, I've found that investing in a very good set of noise-cancelling headphones will help. You don't even need to listen to music. They'll set you back $200-300, but I consider it as necessary equipment for the job, similar to how I am not cheap on my computer keyboard or office chair.



HisShadowX
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30 Oct 2016, 3:54 am

the_mad_man wrote:
I don't post here very often, but I have a topic of great importance to discuss.

I have been working for nearly a decade as a professional software developer. I know that I'm in a field with many other Aspies, and I have seen posts about this problem before.

Friends, to put it dramatically, our house is on fire! We are rapidly becoming unemployable in the modern office workspace.

At the moment, I am unemployed because a contract ran out. To blow my own horn, I am very talented at what I do and deliver outstanding value for my employers and clients, but nearly everywhere I go, I see companies transitioning to "open office" spaces. These are equivalently called "bullpens", "team rooms", "hackerspaces", "makerspaces", or anything "collaborative".

I don't need to repeat how sensitive we Aspies are to our environment. We value our privacy and we are quick to retreat from noise and any other noxious stimuli. However, NTs think that it's weird, and even if they don't think it's weird, they cannot, or will not understand how it affects us.

Honestly, I feel sick just imagining being in one of these awful places for eight hours a day. I've been to interviews where the company work environment is literally a long table with rows of chairs. I have been told that some of the most desirable companies to work for use this setup because they believe that it leads to "collaboration".

Let me be clear, I have no qualm with working "collaboratively". What I have a problem with is being forced to sit at a desk on an "island" or a workbench where I'm constantly haunted by the people stepping around me, where I am forced to listen to every little detail of Sue's cellphone conversation with her long-distance boyfriend, where I can't get out of line-of-sight of ping-pong players. I am unemployable in such an environment.

Most of us are unemployable in such an environment, and we damn well know it.

In spite of the lies spread by people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bob Iger who demand unlimited immigration from low-income countries to compensate for an imaginary talent shortage in the USA, competition for desirable software writing jobs is fierce! If I cannot tolerate an "open space" office, there are 10 other people who can who want the job.

In short, our house is on fire! If this trend continues, we face perpetual unemployability no matter how talented we are. A quick Google search indicates that here in the USA, 70% of companies have already transitioned to open office plans.

Let me point out that if I needed to use a wheelchair to move about and my wheelchair wouldn't sit comfortably next to the desk, the courts would demand that the employer make a "reasonable accomodation". So how is it that we can be put in environments that are intolerable for us as Aspies and then be told that we're SOL.

The subtext for this forum says that at work, you'll be stuffed into a depressing box called a cubicle. Today, you're lucky to get a cubicle! As Dilbert pointed out, the open plan office is the only thing that could possibly be worse than cubicles.

We need to do something about it, but I don't know what that thing is. Any ideas?



Agreed.

At my office we have a disabled worker who has seizures who follows everyone around and she creeps us all out and feeds the need to invade everyone's space and touches us and wants a conversation. We sort of got he censured but I am in the process of getting noise cancelling headphones which has been sort of a problem for one of our supervisors because she is a perfectionist and constantly checks up on everything and she gets upset when I am working and I get startled and jump when I am working and she sneaks behind me to check up on me



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15 Nov 2016, 6:35 pm

If you live near Madison, Wisconsin (or are comfortable moving), have completed a bachelor's degree (in any field), and are skilled with computers, you can check out the software company, Epic Systems Corporation. You do not need to have a computer science degree or know any programming languages, they train new hires in their programming language and software.

There were occasional projects that required teamwork in a meeting room or large computer room, but otherwise, we all worked from our own personal offices. They put a lot of money and effort into anything that might make their employees more happy and more productive:
• Individual offices
• Break rooms (with free coffee, juice, and popcorn)
• Cafeteria (with free leftovers for dinner for anyone working late)
• General store
• On-site conveniences (packages, dry cleaning, oil changes...)

They also give pretty good pay and benefits.


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15 Nov 2016, 7:02 pm

I noticed that one work area where I work, that used to be open area for decades, now has cubicals. I suppose that is a step in the right direction. All the higher paid staff where I work has offices where you can close the door and shut out the noise.



steeter
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16 Nov 2016, 12:47 pm

Oh you can really get me started on this topic. The open-space office concept has consistently been shown to make people more stressed, less satisfied with work, less productive, and take more sick days. And that is just for the "normal" people. Of course for an Aspie such an environment can be even more punishing.

At my workplace there are a mix of groups....some with cubes, others with open areas. It depends on the individual manager, but fortunately I am a lucky one in a cube.

Repeatedly, I have played out the day in my head when some new VP comes in and decides the entire company should be "open-space." I will send him/her a comprehensive list of every study verifying the badness of the decision and ask for a reconsideration. If denied, I won't even give a two week notice before walking out.

I know some companies claim it is for "collaboration" but often it is about saving costs on space. They just need to be reminded that any savings in space is negated by the performance impact on employees, and the expected increase in turnover. Training new employees is one of the most expensive things a company can face and managers need to be reminded of that sometimes.

I have heard the collaboration argument before. I had the displeasure of working near an open-office area for a while and I can confirm there was a lot of collaboration....about 98% of it regarding non-work topics like sports, politics, and what people did on the weekend.



ResilientBrilliance
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26 Nov 2016, 7:27 pm

This is the biggest reason keeping me away from learning how to code. I'm worried about learning how to code only to end up in a job that requires being around people the whole time. I can't deal with people constantly walking past me and overhearing conversations. Software developer seemed like a job I could maybe do, until I see offices like this, then I become doubtful.
Image
I'm glad I read this thread to get some insight into the work environments of software developers.



George9
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04 Feb 2018, 8:09 pm

This is a major problem for me as well. The open office space is supposed to encourage collaboration but in reality they encourage people to have conversations with people several cubicles away.

Worse for me I feel like I am always on display. I would like my desk to be a private place to work, but sitting there just drains me. Fortunately I sometimes work on the factory floor and have an excuse to go there even when I don't have to be.

What is frustrating is that in some places my company has private cubicles with six foot high partitions, while mine is 3 feet high and has only a table behind me. Asking to move would take me away from my group and definitely would be frowned upon.

I'm thinking of piling stuff on my desk just to give me more privacy. Fortune Magazine recently had an article on this.
fortune.com/2017/01/18/i-hate-open-offices



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05 Feb 2018, 5:23 pm

somerandomname53 wrote:
It's frustrating, but not something you can easily change. This trend is not because "someone hates us" or immigration, or even the oft-quoted "communication improvement", it's for one simple reason: money. It's cheaper to house 50 people in a large open-floor space then it is to give them all offices in small groups.


It is not profitable to accomodate, and many profit-hungry organisations will do the minimum required by law. There is a global issue of "invisible disabilities", though I believe it is improving in some areas.

The only way I was able to effectively work in an open office was to crank the earphones up to maximum. I work in a room of 4 now, and I still occasionally do this.



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07 Feb 2018, 3:24 am

I've had two jobs like this in my life. I lasted 6-8 months at each, and the main reason I left both was the environment. Random overheard conversations, phones, beeps and buzzes, harsh fluorescent lights, food smells, people walking back and forth behind me.... I either can't concentrate on my own work, or doing so leaves me completely stressed and exhausted.


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