8 Women Share Their Open Office Horror Stories

Photographed By Maria DelRio.
I'll never forget the time one of my co-workers microwaved fish in a shared office kitchen that was steps away from all our desks. Why won't I ever forget it? Because my other co-workers bring up the incident constantly as a way to illustrate the perils of working in an office with an open floor plan.
We're certainly not alone in having dealt with a few awkward, annoying, or gross situations caused by sharing an open space with our co-workers. And, compared to being faced with a boss who clips his nails in front of his employees, co-workers who get in screaming, tear-filled fights in the middle of the office, and flashing lights from nearby photo studios, the smell of leftover fish filling every inch of our shared workspace somehow doesn't seem so bad.
Advertisement
Ahead, eight real women share their open office horror stories as well as the weird co-worker habits they're confronted with daily thanks to the open floor plan fad.

Jordan, 28

Occupation: Designer
City: Los Angeles, CA
"With open offices, someone's business is everyone's business. I used to work at an agency where opinions differed and clashes would spark often. I remember I was working on a deck at one point, under a very strict deadline. It grew harder and harder to concentrate, as two account managers began to engage in a full-on scream session four feet away from me. I shot terror eyes at the intern across from me — the fight lasted for a good 30 minutes, and we all struggled to work as the fight devolved into tears. At one point, other people walked over from the opposite side of the room to join in on the fight, during which I slipped out for a quick walk around the neighbourhood. People praised my calm, but it was really the fact that so much stress caused me to shut down. I aged five years in that job, despite only staying for two. You live and you learn."
DashDividers_1_500x100

Megan, 28

Occupation: Marketing associate
City: Holmdel, NJ
"My office is a newly renovated, fairly open space with high ceilings and industrial flare. It's easy for noise to travel, and I have a coworker one aisle away whose nose-blowing habit is distracting, to say the least. I don't know if it is a constant cold or a nervous tic, but they blow their nose loudly and repeatedly every day at their desk. It sounds like a horn and is hard to ignore, leaving my teammates and I groaning with annoyance."
Advertisement
DashDividers_1_500x100

Liz, 30

Occupation: Graphic designer
City: Oakland, CA
"My coworker bites their nails but then not-so-discretely tosses them onto the floor. If you walk over to their work station, you can see a full-on nail graveyard that they 10/10 think no one notices! It is 100% out of a nightmare."
DashDividers_1_500x100

Jessica, 26

Occupation: Copywriter
City: Columbus, OH
"I have had several jobs that required me to work in open offices. One of the worst ones had a photo studio right next to the writers' work area, and it meant there were camera flashes going off constantly as we were working. As if that wasn't bad enough, the photographers often had some sort of music blasting, and it was typically Kids Bop or a children's movie soundtrack like Frozen because there were a lot of child models in the studio."
DashDividers_1_500x100

Nikole, 29

Occupation: Editor
City: New York, NY
"How much time do you have? There's a guy in my office whose every movement annoys me and makes the open office plan excruciating. He loves the sound of his own voice so much that, in addition to dictating emails to interns (yes, he sits next to them and watches as they type out an email to his specifications), he spends approximately six hours of the day making phone calls and the remaining two walking around and watering the plants. It should go without saying no actual work is ever getting done by him. He is also constantly bringing in sliced pickles and arranging them on a platter next to his desk, which is the worst "snack" ever. On occasion, he will bring in bagels or donuts, but then he walks around the office, distributing them individually, accompanied by a long speech about wherever he bought them so that by the time he finally puts the rest in the kitchen, I refuse to eat it out of spite."
Advertisement
DashDividers_1_500x100

Maddy, 24

Occupation: Social worker
City: Cleveland, OH
"I worked in an open concept office when I worked for a hospital system, and it was a nightmare. We had cubicles that were cut open at the top and sides so that you could just see everyone's heads and shoulders. I sat across from someone at my cubicle, which meant we were face-to-face most of the day. He was SO CHATTY. He would also play music from a speaker on his desk throughout the day, with no regard for others working around him. I asked him if he could please use headphones once, and he did it but then would sing along out loud and act like he didn't realise everyone could hear him! As a hospital social worker, I spent probably six or seven hours of the day seeing patients on the floors, so the time I spent documenting and returning emails and calls was precious. I actually had to come in super early or stay late to get work done distraction-free."
DashDividers_1_500x100

Courtney, 26

Occupation: Marketing specialist
City: Orange County, CA
"Once a week my director will clip his nails in his office and leaves his door open. Why can't he do this at home?!? My coworker and I share disgusted looks every time we hear the clipping noise start."
DashDividers_1_500x100

Sarah, 27

Occupation: Marketer
City: Los Angeles, CA
"My previous company moved from a traditional layout where I had my own office to a smaller, open office space. At first, I was excited about the change because we really didn't need the big office we were renting. Unfortunately, the move turned out to be a big mistake. My company tried to fit too many people into a limited amount of square footage. I wound up with a desk barely three feet wide with what should have been an exit behind me. Since my desk was too close to the door for it to swing open, their solution was to lock the door so no one could go in or out. Quarters were so tight that when I stood up from my desk I'd often hit my hip on the door handle, which meant I had a gnarly bruise for months on end. Whenever someone had to go to the bathroom, head to a meeting, grab lunch —you know, the normal things people do in an office — everyone in that row had to stand up or otherwise smash themselves into their desks to create enough space to walk by. My new office is also open-concept, but there is a significant lack of safety concerns, so despite the fact that it's nearly impossible to concentrate for all the chatter and my neighbour shaking his leg to the point where my screen rattles, I think I can endure."
Advertisement

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series