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Legitimised eavesdropping – the joys of an open office

open offices penelope whitson angela keoghan

ILLUSTRATION: Angela Keoghan

Like domino theory, we’ve fallen down in the wake of the open plan office, embracing what we’ve come to believe is progress and equality. 

I have never been important enough to have an office of my own – and I wouldn’t want one, for I am a woman of the people and I like to slum it with my homies in the democratic republic of the open plan office.

Somewhat like communism, the open plan office has a veneer of egalitarianism that no-one really believes in but everyone participates in. Some pods or collections of desks are ‘better’ than others and you can be banished to social Siberia to consider your sins for the most trifling of reasons, where you will be forced to listen to someone talk about Mr Mittens, their amazing cat, all day.

For most, the open plan office is our way of life because, like the domino theory, we’ve all fallen down in its wake, embracing what we’ve come to believe is progress and equality. Complaining about it openly would suggest you actually think being private is good and therefore you have something to hide. No, no, my friend. That’s not the future.

The main advantage to being in an open plan

office is that you can see and hear everything. It’s legitimised eavesdropping. There are no secrets in the open plan office – or it is at least incredibly obvious when there are secrets, because there’s nothing louder than the sound of whispering. Secrets must be sent via email, which complicates matters because then there is proof that you have secrets.

It is also undeniable you can get answers to questions quickly by asking instead of emailing – or standing up and shouting if the person whose knowledge you seek is a few desks away.

This also means you can point out that the information you seek was due yesterday, alerting those around you to incompetence. This might inspire fear, or loathing, but nothing will be said because everything can be heard and silence is golden.

You can also see in one quick glance who’s not at their desk – unfortunately this also means you can see in one quick glance that once again you haven’t been invited on the lunch run. Possibly because you are inspire fear and loathing or possibly because your colleagues are in awe of your competence and wish to talk about that without embarrassing you. In their absence you can utilise your advantage and wander casually past their desks and steal whichever items of stationery you are low on, such as staplers and other corporate weapons.

But the open plan office can only take equality so far, with people still having a place to call their own and personalise, so the new wave embraces hot desking, where you sit where you like, or wherever is left over, with no personal nonsense cluttering the desks and minds of the workforce.

To me, the very best thing about either option is that you have the right to eat a powerfully putrid fish pie at your desk and everyone else has the right to inhale its fumes. That, my friends, is equality. 

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