Uber recently announced something called "quiet mode" where the driver is instructed not try to provide the typical chit-chat. According to TechCrunch, quiet mode is only being offered on Uber's premium services.

Apparently Uber's internal research discovered that some people will pay extra for a little peace and quiet. If they're right (and there's no reason to assume they're not) it's yet another indication that open plan offices are truly the dumbest management fad of all time.

That seems like a non-sequitur, but bear with me.

Research has repeatedly proven that open plan offices decrease both collaboration and productivity, the last remaining justification is that you can cram more people into a smaller area, thereby reducing your rent for the office area.

Even in areas with sky-high rents, even a tiny productivity loss ends up costing far more than a company saves with a smaller footprint. However, lower office space rent is easier to quantify than productivity loss, which may be why CEOs are still embracing the concept. 

But... what if people are willing to pay extra for silence and privacy? If so, then it seems logical that employees would be willing to accept lower salaries if their workplace didn't force them to work in a cafeteria-like environment that's noisy and intrusive.

As an introvert who's worked from home for the past two decades, I know that a company would need to to pay me upwards of $250k a year to work in an open plan environment--and even then I'd have to think it through before accepting the job.

To my mind, (and I strongly suspect I'm not alone in this) daily access to privacy and silence is a quality of life issue. So, yes, I'd take definitely accept a smaller salary if I could continue to work from home. Indeed, I'm arguably doing that right now.

I strongly suspect that many employees would be willing to work for less money provided they could work within an environment that provide private areas as a default. And I'm not talking about those ridiculous little phone booths.

The problem here, unfortunately, is that it's very hard to get CEOs to admit that they've been snookered by the open plan office fad. Sunk costs and confirmation bias is leading companies to cling to these horrible designs, despite all evidence.

But maybe, just maybe, when CEOs realize that they're paying their employees extra salary to convince them to work in an environment that makes them less productive, CEOs will finally wake up and smell the madness.

Published on: May 20, 2019
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