No file cabinets.  No assigned desks or phones.  A backpack to carry materials from meeting to meeting.  And a large swirl of desks and chairs.

There’s much complaining among our cohorts about open space offices.  Conceived by German engineer-architects in the 1950s, and now boasting a 70 percent footprint in U.S. workplaces, office openness has long spurred a contentious discussion, with retorts right and left:

              “It’s a great concept:  Our organization is flatter and executives are more approachable.”

              “Help!  I can’t hear myself think – and am constantly interrupted.”

              “Just think about the other benefits – in terms of real estate savings and increased collaboration.”

              “Where’s our focus – and concentration?  I go home at night with migraines.”

The two factors missing?  One, self-determination – that is, the ability to decide what, where, and how to work – is absent.  Millennials, for instance, pride themselves on selecting environments that help them contribute in a big way; the mere presence of open offices indicates that there is no choice and, probably, few options to make a difference.  [Quite a few years ago, European workers passed laws to allow forms of co-determination.]

Two, communication.  The havoc generated by having to figure out where to work each day, to find colleagues, even to identify the ‘what I need to-dos’ is considerable.  Plus, instead of fostering collaboration, open offices often cause us to retreat, requesting every private cubbyhole and avoiding conversations. 

What’s your take?