Early in my freelance career I was working on a way to visualize and describe the Medicare donut hole in a “new and exciting way.” Next to me were some junior creatives discussing the latest episode of “Lost.” On my second day, I asked them if they could chat in the break room. I was ignored. On the third day I explained to their boss that I couldn’t concentrate. They said, “Sorry, it’s just our company culture.” This taught me to bring earbuds and try not to listen to the instrumentals. The idea that open spaces will democratize company culture and encourage creativity and collaboration arose in the early-mid 90’s, has been debunked and covered in stories by Forbes, Fortune, The New Yorker, and a 2018 study by The Harvard Business School, as reported by Fast Company. “Employees hate open offices. They’re distracting. They’re loud. There’s often little privacy. ‘The sensory overload that comes with open-office plans gets to a point where I can barely function,’ says one 47-year-old graphic designer who has spent more than two decades working in open environments. ‘I even had to quit a job once because of it.’” Even great ad agencies can start terrible trends. Chiat Day (Creators of the legendary Apple campaign and now the 15th largest ad agency), instituted the “Virtual Office” in 1994, where employees signed their laptops in and out and then grabbed whatever desk was open. It resulted in people just not showing up, according to the Fast Company story. In the last few years, I’ve noticed quite a change in the open areas of most of the companies I visit. The place is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. People don’t talk to one another, I surmise, as not to disturb their neighbors and vice-versa. According to the Harvard study: Open offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%. When employees are your greatest asset (and one of your biggest expenses), why do companies persist in the open office trend? “According to commercial real estate association CoreNet Global, the average space allotted to individual employees globally fell from 225 square feet in 2010 to 176 square feet in 2013, and is projected to keep decreasing. This adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars–or more–in savings per year at the country’s largest companies, according to calculations from Erik Rood, an analyst in Google’s human resources department who examines corporate financials on his personal blog, Data Interview Qs.” Fast Company explains.

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