You’re Working in the Wrong Place

Open offices misunderstand psychology and design

Amar Singh
7 min readMay 12, 2017


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

At my most recent job, I did all of my best work at home. I would actively try to avoid the office for as long as possible. At home, I had two desks and complete control over my environment. Distractions and breaks were choices.

My home office is a fortress of productivity. Photo courtesy of author.

Once I went into the office, there were constant distractions that weren’t optional — other employees, dogs barking, impromptu meetings, birthday celebrations. It was very difficult to get into flow states and incredibly easy to be broken from them. Of all the places I could work, my desk at the office was often the worst option.

When I’m in a crowded space, my thoughts also get crowded. I feel overwhelmed by stimuli and the inability to escape them. In contrast, when I have space (mental and physical), I’m able to challenge and understand my thoughts and assumptions. The quality of my thinking goes up significantly.

I’ve realized I kind of hate open offices.

The Rise of the Open Office

“We encourage people to stay out in the open because we believe in serendipity — and people walking by each other teaching new things.”

Jack Dorsey

The open office sounds great in theory. Put everyone in one room, and you’ll get more synergy than you can dynamically optimize. Marketing and Design will work side by side on skunk works projects, Engineering and Product can knock out questions and bugs immediately, and communication will flow through the organization naturally.

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash. Open offices lack a certain sense of privacy.

Some 80 percent of all offices now have an open floor plan. Traditional companies have moved toward open plans to inject some much-needed creativity and serendipity in their offices, just like the cool startups.