The Open-Office Backlash Continues, but It Is a Lost Cause to Hope That the Private Office Is Coming Back.

Screen capture. Neo in his cubicle in the Matrix. The air quality isn't too good here, either

Complaining about open offices is all the rage these days; Jason Feifer did it in Fast Company and called for "offices for everyone!" I responded with Open offices for all; it is more flexible, adaptable and green.

Open offices are more efficient in terms of use of space, more flexible and adaptable. They offer the employee more opportunity to work from home or in teams as required. All of these articles are wishful thinking, the private office is not coming back. In fact, it is probably going the way of the phone booth.

Bürolandschaft, the first "office landscape"/CC BY 2.0When Maria Konnikova wrote The open office trap for the New Yorker, dredging up the same studies, Architect and author Lance Hosey jumped into the fray with a great response in Huffington Post. He notes how much greener and more sustainable the open office is, because you get more people in the same space.

Cutting area also considerably slashes energy and emissions. If every office building in America shrank by just 10 percent, greenhouse gases would decline by the equivalent of taking seven million cars off the road. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes open work plans as a standard strategy for saving energy because, even without reducing the area of a building, fewer partitions make it easier to distribute artificial light and mechanical air at lower quantities with less equipment. But open space also allows natural light and outside air to spread more easily, lowering dependence on electrical systems. Many smart office buildings require no artificial lighting at all during the day, and this simply cannot be achieved with too many walls.
Ace Hotel Lobby

© Ace Hotel Lobby/ CONTESSANALLY

In fact, offices are becoming indistinguishable from the lobby of the Ace Hotel, as all of our communications and file needs shrink into our computer or our smart phone. We move from public to private, from group to individual space, as we need it for the function we are doing. People often actually work better in this kind of environment; Lances nots that "healthcare giant GSK found that moving to open workspace improved decision-making speed by 45 percent."

Bloomberg Office

City of New York/Public Domain

Mike Bloomberg could have had a private office at New York City Hall, and all of his department heads probably wished they still had one. But he knew that in a fast-paced decision-making environment, you want to put everyone together within reach. It's often not pretty, it's not quiet, but it works better. One can be wistful for the Mad Men days with the bar in the corner and the ashtray on the coffee table, but I will say it again, it's not coming back.