How to maximize productivity with an open office plan

Just kidding! That title must have thrown you, huh? I mean, when have I ever advocated for an increase in productivity? That’s crazy talk, kind of like if I said you should be nice to people or put the needs of your children before your own needs. What a crazy notion — after all, you can always make more kids.

Anyway, this article is an homage to Facebook, which is currently in the process of designing what it calls the “largest open office plan in the world,” despite the fact that research indicates that open office plans do the opposite of contribute to productivity. In fact, some studies go so far as to suggest that having an office door increases productivity by up to 200%.

As anyone who’s ever tried to watch two movies simultaneously can corroborate, it’s kind of hard to concentrate when there are 95 other things going on all around you. “So the CIA agent is in love with the princess — no, wait, that’s not right — um, I think the king is mad because his kingdom’s being wiretapped by — no, hold on, just gimme a second …”

So if you are currently slaving away under the watchful eyes of a dozen or so co-workers in your open office, here are two things you can do to ensure that you never get anything done:

Talk to as many people as possible! The idea behind an open office is to foster collaboration. And I’m sure that occasionally happens. But what usually happens is that all those simultaneous conversations start to sound the way they do at baseball games, the mall, bars, and other places where lots of people are talking at once. So join in the fun! Since pretty much all work requires at least some amount of concentration, the fact that everyone’s talking should make it all but impossible for you to concentrate.

After all, if you focus on work, you’re going to miss out on that awesome story the guy next to you is telling about his weekend. He did what in Vegas?



Don’t talk to anyone! This is the categorical opposite of the previous point, but it’s just as effective. If everyone in your open office is afraid of disturbing everyone else, you’ll end up with this weird, creepy office culture where all you hear is the incessant clicking of keyboards and the occasional cough (followed by a quick, furtive apology). You know how it’s kind of weird to sit next to a total stranger on an airplane and then stare straight ahead because you don’t want to get into a three-hour conversation with someone who might turn out to be really annoying? Well, it’s even weirder when you sit next to eight of those people every single day!

And there you go! These two simple steps — talking, or not talking — more or less guarantee that you will make the least out of your open office plan. And since these two steps are entirely unavoidable, you don’t even have to try! The work will get done for you. Which is nice, since it will also have to get done for you when you aren’t able to do any of it at your open office.

Jeff Havens is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who addresses leadership, generational issues, and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and has been featured on CNBC and in Businessweek and Bloomberg News. To learn more about his keynote presentations and corporate training, visit