If you worked in an office as far back as the 1980’s, it is not uncommon today to walk into any recently furbished office environment and see what you may not normally expect. That is instead of cubicles surround by a periphery of office doors – you would now see just an open space of desks. If anything has survived the 1987 movie “Wallstreet” it is the concept of “open space”. It comes in a variety of configurations, but the variations all have one thing in common: a lack of personal space. Your desk (if you’re lucky to have one assigned to you), is right next to or connected to your neighbor. In the cubicle world a person can at least expect about up to 50 square feet to themselves. Even in a noisy environment this space goes a long way including the fact those cubicles have walls that can create a bit of a safe space from visual distractions.
Two important variables never seem to be considered prior to implementation of an open space concept. 1) The type of job being conducted. I personally have seen areas that were open space, but since the work was sensitive, the phone calls could only be made in “phone booths” that surrounded the work area. Those in the booths looked like they were on a game show being sequestered so they could not hear the answers. 2) And more importantly, the type of person that will be occupying the space. So even if the type of job for example is something that involves a lot of human interaction like sales, it is not really clear how much creativity and collaboration would need to be conducted amongst peers. In that example, the real work, that is engaging with customers, is done outside the office. So perhaps it is a certain type of personality that open space is designed for?
In many cases, the open space also includes managers, so it is possible that one of the occupiers in this space are an authoritarian personality that carries all those traits that designers may have envisioned managers leading their teams, for example: loud, talk-oriented, authoritative, and directive (PSU, 2019). Picture a workspace of several of these personalities in one area, instead of having the modern office you more accurately have a scene from that movie “Wallstreet”. The reality is not everybody who has an authoritative personality (or any personality) is going to have the supporting traits all the time.
The designers may have considered thousands of traits for who would potentially be using these spaces, but likely they may have just simply leveraged Costa and McCrae’s five-factor model (FFM). One would think nearly all the “CANOE” traits would do well in the open space environment. Whether one is Conscientious (thoughtful, organized, and careful not to disturb their neighbor), Agreeable (easy to get along with, comforting to social norms), Neurotic (the obvious exception to not fit well into the open space is anxious, insecure, and hostile) Openness (creative and curious) and Extraverted (social and assertive, the opposite of introversion). It is a safe bet that if most people fit these traits, then the open space would work for most people (PSU, 2019).
However, one trait is overlooked that is often forced to endure the open space concept. According to Susan Cain the author of “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” in her 2012 Ted Talk “The Power of Introverts”, one-third to one-half of the population are those that are opposite to the extraverts, that is introverts. They have a tendency to be more self-directed, less assertive (not to be confused with shy), and more introspective (PSU, 2019). This trait undoubtedly suffers the most in these environments. The introvert or someone who has the tendency to be introverted while working: creates best, is more productive, and leads most effectively when they can have the solitude they require to carry these tasks. For some of us, open space means working from home instead, or if needed, wearing noise-cancelling headphones. But for many, the open space concept is a loss of productivity and unfair/ unpleasant experience just because of a particular personality trait they may be.
PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L09 Personality Defined. Retrieved from:
PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L09 Five-Factor Model of Personality. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l09-five-factor-model-of-personality?module_item_id=25808491
Youtube.com. (2012) Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4&feature=youtu.be