After having switched my working environment from a large open space office with maybe 30 people sitting in more or less close proximity to a small “classical” office with 5 people I cannot help but wonder who ever got the idea that open space offices may be a good idea for development work (if not any type of work).

It is fascinating how quickly you can adjust to a new working environment and how quickly you think back to what happened only two weeks ago thinking “how on earth did this work out?”.

I am not the only one coming to the conclusion that the typical arguments made in favor of open office solutions (direct access to your coworkers, osmotic communication, etc.) do not even remotely hold up in real life (1, 2, 3).

As humans we’re quite resourceful in evading situations, where we feel uncomfortable. Handling the constant noise and interruptions in an open space office is not an exception. I have seen colleagues who have locked themselves with construction site level hearing protectors into telephone rooms. Others (myself included) preferred the more “conventional” approach of listening to music via headphones. But guess what: All this doesn’t make communication easier - it makes communication harder because no one dares to interrupt anyone with headphones on.

It simply doesn’t work. An organization may require less space per employee, which looks pretty good on paper because you’re saving on your overall office expenditures. But the loss of productivity and the frustration you create within your people will more than eat up these savings.

Experiencing this first hand gives me both an interesting insight and a deep appreciation of getting back to the “old” way of organizing the work environment.

For me there is only one recommendation regarding open space offices: Don’t do it.