Open Offices Really Suck — But Your HR Department Already Knows This

About a year ago, a former HR colleague called me in a panic.

She was asked to help design a new office layout. Nobody would have offices or cubicle walls, not even the CEO.

“We’re going to lose people,” she told me.

I just checked in with her, and she did lose people — quite a few. It coincided with an RPO initiative where, as the recruiting needs grew due to the attrition challenges, the CFO decided to outsource the hiring process to a third-party vendor to win the war for talent.

(I’m so glad that I no longer work in human resources.)

The faulty premise behind open offices

Creating an open office environment is a fast and practical way to reduce commercial real estate expenses while pretending that you care about aesthetics and collaboration.

Your head of facilities can brag about tempered glass and funky light fixtures all he wants, but your employees aren’t stupid. They know that every dollar spent on new paint is a dollar saved on HVAC and electricity costs.

If you invest in facilities over people — and try to spin the cost-cutting endeavor into a people-related endeavor — good people will leave.

You can easily search the web for supporting materials to show how open office environments reduce creativity and collaboration. The articles are everywhere.

Open office environments eat away at the corporate culture. Employees hate them. And nobody enjoys being lumped in uncomfortable but trendy pods and handed noise-reduction headphones.

How is that fun?

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Some companies will create mixed zones and have an open office environment with a few private rooms on the side where people can hold separate and confidential conversations. Let’s just call those rooms what they are: tiny offices without formal nameplates on the door.

Why pretend otherwise?

Here’s a cool office trend to get behind

Why not just assign those spaces? Are you afraid of empowering your employees with a door? Have you seen too many HR horror stories? Are you making up those potential horror stories in your head?

(Probably.)

If you want to retain great people, you should learn from my former HR colleague. Aesthetics matter, but not in the way that you might assume.

It’s cool and trendy to have an open, loft-style work environment with a ping pong table and a fancy espresso machine on the side. It’s even cooler if you let your employees work from home as needed and give them a dedicated and quiet space when they come into the office.

This was originally published on the Laurie Ruettimann blog.

 

Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 

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