How to Make Your Open Plan Office Suck Less

Open plan offices suck, but there are some easy ways to make them suck less. Here are three ways that simple desk positioning can make a big difference in the suckiness of your open plan.

1. Lower Density

Lower density means less noise. Put more space between desks.  

red16 Sucks:

High density sucks

yellow16 Sucks less:

Low density sucks less

2. Face Space

Don’t seat people where their line of sight goes through a nearby face. If you haven’t felt the awkward tension of having someone’s visible face right behind your monitor while working all day, then congrats, your open plan sucks a bit less.

red16 Sucks:

Face-to-face bad

red16 Sucks:

Face-to-side-of-face bad

yellow16 Sucks less:

Facing in same direction better

3. Watch Your Back

Don’t seat people with their back to a high-traffic area. People in this position feel constantly vulnerable and cannot have one moment of screen privacy. Ask these folks to wear headphones, and they’ll feel even more vulnerable.

red16 Sucks:

Back to the action bad

yellow16 Sucks less:

Facing the action better


If you’re committed to an open plan office (shame on you), then at least get these things right.


Renee MacDonald said...

Have you ever seen the type of open office plans that you are suggesting anywhere? I think with open plan offices at the very least companies could provide rooms where we could briefly get away and work in privacy for an hour or so, so that we're not constantly bombarded with noise.

Keegan said...

What you're describing is perfectly reasonable. The awesome part is offices were all designed that way before the ubiquity of Herman Millers "Action Office II" (the cubicle.),_1937.tif

Matt Blodgett said...


Yes, I've seen the good and bad versions of each of the three patterns in real spaces. Some management types are very aware of the pitfalls of open plans and some are totally clueless.

And some companies do have the temporary private rooms you're talking about for when a person needs quiet.