Hate Open Plan Offices? Here's What's Coming Next

Observation: there's no dumb idea that can't be made worse and that's especially true with one of the dumbest ideas of all time, the open plan office.

Quick recap: there's a near-total lack of scientific evidence that open plan offices increase productivity. Quite the contrary. Multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies show that open plan offices increase stress and illnessreduce workers' ability to concentrate, and substantially reduce worker productivity.

Unlike other management fads (which can be dropped once everyone realizes the emperor is naked), the move to an open plan office represents huge sunk costs that are not so easily shed, and certainly not without making the fad's proponents look like idiots.

Given that careers now hinge on the faith-based notion that open plan offices are a productivity panacea, it's not at all surprising that some companies are now choosing to double down rather than walk it back.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a privately-conducted survey of 138 employers found that by 2021, 52% slightly more than half plan to replace open plan desks with "first-come, first-served desks, plus additional workspaces with names like huddle rooms and touchdown spaces."

The WSJ article cites the example of a 70-person Minneapolis-based architecture firm Perkins + Will that has 52 "adjustable sit-stand desks." Since this type of work environment may very well be your future, here's an exact description so you can get steel yourself to the apparently inevitable:

"Anyone who leaves a desk for more than two hours is expected to pack up and wipe it down with sanitary wipes from one of several office-supply carts. [One employee] totes a backpack around the office with her work gear. Others carry oversize purses and briefcases."

Since there's no evidence whatsoever that we are anywhere close to the long-heralded "paperless office," this means that everyone must now imitate the homeless people who carry their belonging around with them, but without the convenience of a shopping cart.

The requirement to lug everything adds yet another health risk to the many already associated with open plan designs. According to The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, "improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints and can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems."

inc