Systems outlook not enough

By | July 29, 2015

This is a very programmer-y piece to write, because it examines open offices from a completed systemic and mechanistic viewpoint, even though the reason open offices are so prevalent really has nothing to do with any factor cited in the article.

First, the notion should be dispelled that companies care primarily about productivity and profit. No one in the company cares primarily about either of these things, except perhaps the CFO. Doubtful even in that case.

Most managers and executives care foremost about control and obeisance*. Productivity is tertiary if even in the top 10. Often it is not. The behavior and preferences of managers and executives is the primary shaper of an organizations culture and characteristics. Worker preferences do not really matter much. Hence the observed and realized “preference” for open plan offices.

And this is the culture of the vast, vast majority of places I’ve worked and is probably embedded in human nature. Many maladaptive tendencies in fact are, contra current (mostly) liberal beliefs.

In short, some study of sociology and history would do the article writer well for understanding the ascendancy of open plan offices. As workers have lost power, open plan offices have dominated despite being clearly contrary to worker preferences and also harmful to nearly any measure of productivity.

Attempting to understand the rise of these productivity-destroying offices from the perspective of the worker is like attempting to understand the operations of an oil rig from examining a single bolt. It makes no sense. One must look at what the supervisor mandates and prefers. And they prefer being able to see everyone, to have their minions laid bare before them and easily viewable and interruptible. On display for themselves, and for others.

Such is the case here. As I always stress, a little study of sociology, anthropology and history goes a very long way.

All that said, anyone have any good 300-level anthro or sociology textbooks to recommend? I’ve read many (most?) of the ones below that level used in the US. But want to get back into those areas of study again.

*If you doubt this, just try doing something that clearly increases the productivity and profit of the company but is implicitly or explicitly against management wishes. 99% chance you will be fired, so I don’t actually recommend trying it.