Open offices were supposed to liberate us from cubicle-land. In the 1960s, the German design group Quickborner decided that grouping desks together would increase efficiency and de-emphasize status. They dubbed it Bürolandschaft, or “office landscape." Open plans are also meant to enhance collaboration: Perhaps overhearing your colleague's every mutter will lead to some serendipitous insights. ("Eureka! Steve, too, can't get Twitter to load.")
But we've long since entered the backlash phase. "A cost-effective panopticon," sneered one commenter on the tech site Y Combinator. When the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed various types of office plans in 2011, as Maria Konnikova wrote for the New Yorker, "He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission ... they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction." A 2008 meta-analysis in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management found that open plans are associated with conflict, high blood pressure, and increased turnover.
These free-flowing "landscapes" can be particularly traumatic for the lone wolves among us. As my colleague Julie Beck described for our magazine recently, introverts are far more sensitive to everything from background noise to the caffeine from the communal coffeemaker.