Understanding – again

Following the previous post about understanding – a few more comments are worth passing, about people, things, and practices that get my goat.

Open Plan

Lets start with the evils of open plan offices. If ever there was something designed by a lunatic from a fun-factory, it would have to be open-plan.

Small groups, working together in the same space can work fairly well. But putting 20, 40, or 200 people in one big zoo and expecting it to work well is fantasy. All the excuses given about creating team spirit, opening the lines of communication, and so on are bullshit. Some people believe all this stuff, especially architects (another profession, who, with economists, we need less of).

Mainly, managements like open plan because its cheap. Few will actually admit that. What it does, more than anything else, is make a constant undercurrent of noise which is distracting at best, and destructive of thought at worst.

It’s common in open plan offices for some staff to wear headphones or ear-muffs. The high-tech savvy people get noise-cancelling headphones.

It’s likewise common for people to try and work from home to avoid the distractions, or to go find a quiet meeting room somewhere.

And the real dills are the people who use speakerphone in an open plan office. Take the silly mongrels out and shoot them.

How are all these things indicative of a good, productive work place? They aren’t. Indicative of control freak management, cost cutting, and woolly-headed thinking, more like.

Where open plan CAN work, is for groups who need to come up with creative ideas – advertising agencies spring to mind. Chuck a few ideas around, start to finish on a job might be 2 weeks. Here, free flowing discussion is a good thing.

For the professions who need thinking time, and where complex problems need to be solved over a period of a month, a year, or two, its all a disaster. How many university professors work in an open plan office with their PhD students? I’ll tell you: NONE. And for good reason.

Laptops, Lifelines, and Lifestyle

All those people with laptops who pull them out on plains, trains, and during a drive somewhere. Or who think they can do some work in the lounge with the kids running around (”oh, golly, with this I can change the way I live and spend more time with the kids.”).

Yeah right. What utter tosh. If you are some big nob who reads the work of others – maybe. If you have the attention span of a small dead ferret – maybe.

If you have to prepare a presentation, analyse financial accounts, write software, prepare a legal judgement… you won’t be doing it in the lounge with the kids running around. You won’t be doing it on a plane, or in a train. You won’t be doing it using the Blackberry or the 3G-HSPDA-WCDMA-3GSM-blah-blah iPhoneDangled thingy. Because none of those things, toys, or situations let you THINK.


With all the toys, and all the bullshit work environments, all the emphasis on noise and action, it’s a wonder anything gets achieved at all in some workplaces. A triumph of image over substance.

Activity without thinking leads to the death of enterprises. So why are so many trying to do just that?


So, so true…. mind if I quote you?

Comment by Kath Lockett | April 21st, 2009 10:29 am | Permalink

Go right ahead

Comment by Wally | April 21st, 2009 2:20 pm | Permalink
Comment by Kath Lockett | April 23rd, 2009 1:41 pm | Permalink

Ah, Architects, don’t you just love ‘em. Unfortunately, they can be as dumb as a sack full of hammers some times.

We recently had a building designed with an open plan cubicle farm. I patiently discussed, on a couple of occasions, that open plan environment does not work well for jobs like software design which require intense concentration. The architect did the equivalent of shoving fingers in her ears and saying “La, la, la. I can’t hear you”. Her opinion was that it works OK for them, so it should be OK for us. She was not at all interested in any evidence to the contrary.

Some of the other great things these geniuses came up with include:
1. Having one car park entrance for 2000 or so employees to use, requiring crossing a major arterial road to get in or out. Luckily there will probably be two different starting times.
2. Four urinals in the men’s loos (for about 500 blokes)
3. Four microwave ovens in the canteen. We have twice that now, with about 1/5 of the people :(
4. Bright red walls and furniture everywhere. We think this is to increase stress levels for some reason.
5. Lockers which are too small to put anything of use in.
6. No spare desks, for a company which really needs 25% more people.
7. Virtually no storage.
8. No visual barriers between people, guaranteeing that you will be distracted by every passing person, not just by the noise.

They did do a few things well though. It must have been accidental…

Comment by Fred | April 23rd, 2009 5:44 pm | Permalink

I don’t like open plan anything. Not offices, nor homes. I like being able to close a door between me and the world.

Comment by river | April 23rd, 2009 7:42 pm | Permalink

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