Open Office Floor Plans Exist Because You Can’t Be Trusted

I have listened to many smart and sensible people debate the merits and drawbacks of open office plans.

Some people believe that an open office environment will create better interdepartmental communication and stop people from hoarding information. Unfortunately, academics and researchers are finding that open office environments can impair cognitive abilities. Many others believe that open environments create hostility and a sense of helplessness among workers.

Do you work in an open office environment? Do you feel hostile and helpless?  You have my sympathy. Cubicles and open offices are the worst; however, there are two real reasons why you are sitting in a corporate playpen with 50 other people and no walls.

  1. It’s cheaper.
  2. They don’t trust you.

Many CEOs, owners and entrepreneurs feel that an “open office” can reduce overhead expenses and create beautiful work environments on a relatively small budget. When margins are tight and executive pay is more important than investing back into the workforce, it’s easier to install moveable furniture and create quiet zones than it is to create walled-off environments.

And while an office with a door seems sensible for many jobs, your local HR lady knows that a door is dangerous for business. You deserve privacy and dignity, but I cannot tell you how many times I have opened a door and found someone doing something totally inappropriate.

Actually, I can tell you.

Back in 1996, I encountered my first employee watching an adult movie on his computer. Most of us only had AOL dial-up at home, so while I was horrified, I was also impressed. This pervert was an early adopter of high-speed internet access at work!

(Our local HR team worked with facilities management to invoke a sense of fear and shame in our colleagues. The office plans were reconfigured to make sure the computer screen always faced the door.)

And back in the day—while working in a small office with a window that faced a pathetic smoker’s courtyard—I looked up and saw two of my colleagues making out. The office door was closed, but the blinds were open just enough to scare the hell out of me. I finally ran over there when I saw my colleague’s pasty white ass. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I knocked on the door and whispered, “Please get dressed.” They later thanked me for being so cool. I had to wash my eyes with bleach.

(And those are just the stories that make it past the censors here at®. I’ve seen worse.)

I truly value your right to privacy, but offices are more trouble than they are worth. So while I hate open office floor plans, I understand the logic and the merit of creating a space where people are present, visible, and somewhat responsible for their behaviors.

But in my experience, most of you should be working from home—where you can be as smelly, as skanky, or as naked as you want to be—and not sitting in some boring office. So don’t fight the battle over an office. Fight the battle to be evaluated on your goals and accomplishments.

That’s the real challenge.

FOT Background Check

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.


  1. Mary Faulkner says:

    I’ve been in the cube farm, I’ve had an office, and I have been in the TRUE open office (tables in a room). Honestly, they all kind of suck. I prefer to have a door or some other way to block out the drop-ins. Barring that, I’ve invested in a very good pair of noise canceling earphones for open environments.

    I agree that office set up is driven by money and accountability…and yet I have STILL seen employees watch inappropriate web content on their computers, even though their computer faced their boss’s door and everyone could see it as you walk by. If no one calls him on it, though, it doesn’t matter whether he’s in an office or parked in the breakroom.

    Hold people accountable to their responsibilities and it doesn’t matter where they do their work. Oh, but that takes effort from managers. Darn it – best to just enforce face time and open environments as a method of leadership.

  2. Melisa says:

    I just laughed out loud in my open office environment! Humorously put but well said all around.

    In our creative environment, the shared space can at times be electric with collaboration; at other times, it’s difficult to focus. We offer a couple of quiet spaces where one can dig in to work.

    We also offer the option to work from home as needed a certain number of days each month. This option naturally requires the use of the honor system, but we’ve found that the type of personality who would be inclined to abuse the work-at-home policy would manage to abuse the “system” in some other way even if 100% face time were required.

  3. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    remember, ear buds in and no eye contact means don’t **** with me in an open floor plan.


  4. Megan Burkett says:

    Great share. Love the stories. The funny thing is my roommate works in an open office environment and I in cubes so it is entertaining to hear her side of the story. While an open office space sounds absolutely amazing I am definitely the type of person that could come off bi*chy as I tend to take the approach of Kris Dunn. If my earbuds are in and you come to chat- I will ignore you in complete focus. It boils down to what work is being done and respecting one another- but as you mentioned, ultimately cost!

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