The "Phone Room"

Here’s another office design 101 thing that I want to get out of the way: the importance of temporary private space for people stuck in open plans.

These private spaces sometimes get labeled as “phone rooms” or something similar, implying that they exist for a person to take their loud conversation away from the rest of the workers. Well, the exact opposite situation is at least as important if not more: for a person to get some quiet away from the loudness of the general office environment.

Phone room

We already know that some people need more quiet time than others. And headphones are not a substitute for quiet.

Let’s stop calling these “phone rooms” and ensure there is no judgment from anyone who matters about people using these rooms simply for quiet time.

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.