Restrooms and offices are interesting to compare. There’s generally 3 kinds of offices and 3 kinds of restroom areas (for the men’s room side of things).

In an office, the 3 settings are:

  1. Open, with no or very low walls between desks
  2. Cubes, with mid-height walls giving some privacy
  3. Walls with doors, with actual privacy

There’s 3 restroom settings, too:

  1. Open, such as the urinals, sometimes there’s little walls between each one
  2. Stalls, where a wall goes neither to the ceiling or floor
  3. Private, like in most homes, where there’s a door and real walls

It’s interesting to compare each of these for social norms:

In an open office, it’s generally accepted to talk to the people around you, even if those people don’t agree. In an open restroom setting, it’s usually awkward, but again, some people didn’t get the memo and will gab away while relieving themselves. In an open office, it’s also generally odd when someone stares at you, but there’s nothing stopping them, while in the restroom, depending on who’s doing the staring or being stared at, it’s possible a fight breaks out (this is MINE, you have your own!).

In cubes or stalls, again, most people understand that talking between them is not OK, but then there’s the contingent that doesn’t understand. There’s always that one guy who pops his head over, just to see what’s going on, and in both situations, no one likes that guy!

In either the open restroom or stalls, talking on your cell phone feels weird, and for good reason. No one wants to know that the person on the other end of the phone is “doing their business.” But in any office, gabbing away on the phone is seen as normal. In both cases, everyone else nearby has to listen to the conversation too, and sometimes the listeners can’t tell if the person is really on the phone or not and things feel really awkward.

At home, when using the restroom, you close the door. Others can’t see you, they can’t hear you, and best of all, they can’t smell you. These are all good things. It also means that you can’t see or hear the others. It’s generally accepted that private bathrooms are the nicest, at least in the USA.

So why is the open or cube office plan so popular?

Managers want to watch, hear, and smell the minions “doing their business.” That’s why.

Kind of gross, eh?


19 June 2012