Practical analysis for investment professionals
12 May 2017

Weekend Reads: Open Offices, Gigs Revisited, Snapchat Falls Flat

I take a narrow view of most new things foisted upon me by some distant and obscure authority over which I have no influence. That is especially true in the workplace. I characterize this attitude as “radical doubt,” which sounds vaguely philosophical, academic, and conscience-driven, but is really just a euphemism for “I would prefer not to.

Like most philosophies, it’s far from seamless in its application. You want to install new software on my computer? Why? What if it’s buggy? What was wrong with the old program? I never use the last thing you installed. Are you sure I have enough memory?

Which brings me to the open-office environment. It seems to be all the rage these days. And while I don’t mind it in the abstract or when I don’t have an office to lose, I tend to doubt it accomplishes what it sets out to. Indeed, with productivity growth falling to levels not seen since, maybe, the Dark Ages, or at least the 1970s, I’m going to go out on a limb and lay some of the blame on the doorstep of the open office.

So what’s the rationale behind it?

The open office is supposed to level hierarchies and encourage the sort of barrier-less collaboration and communication required by the 21st-century economy. An added bonus: It helps keep track of truant and tardy staff. It was dreamed up by a team of designers in Hamburg, Germany, back in the 1950s. Silicon Valley embraced it and now it’s everywhere.

But the research is clear: It doesn’t work. Aside from fostering a sense of community and mission, the open office has a negative effect on just about every other metric of worker productivity and satisfaction. There is more noise and distraction and less privacy. Staff in open offices even take more sick days. Whether that’s because their morale is in the gutter or because the open office is more conducive to the spread of disease is a fun question to ponder as you sit in your open cubicle.

These data points aside, I don’t think the open office is going anywhere. The evidence against it may be overwhelming, but when has that ever made a difference?

Below are some interesting reads on open offices and other content that have caught my eye.

The Open Office Is Awful (for Productivity)

Social Media Agonistes

Snapchat’s disappointing earnings report was the news of the week in the markets. I’ll admit I’ve never used Snapchat, but from what I gather, it’s a social media platform through which users send disappearing messages. That may not sound like much, but the kids love it. Hence its market cap of roughly $20 billion.

Elsewhere the social media sector has weathered some challenges. Twitter has emerged as the sick man of the space, while even Facebook has had its share of controversies of late. Still, until they find a better way for us to share our cat pictures and political rants with everyone from distant cousins to grammar school classmates, social media is here to stay.

Gig or Gouge?

I’ve weighed in as a gig economy skeptic before, and other than the cab line at LaGuardia Airport and visions of hiring my retired self out as a professional dog walker, nothing has changed my mind on that front yet. Certainly not the heroic story of the pregnant Lyft driver who continued to pick up fares after going into labor.

Photo Bomb

All-Time Faves

“However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.” (Vogue)

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Ellica_S

About the Author(s)
Paul McCaffrey

Paul McCaffrey is an editor at CFA Institute. Previously, he served as an editor at the H.W. Wilson Company. His writing has appeared in Financial Planning and DailyFinance, among other publications. He holds a BA in English from Vassar College and an MA in journalism from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism.

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