I certainly get the appeal of everyone having a nice office, but in a lot of cities that's simply not going to happen - the space is just far too expensive. So you end up with the choice between a more compact layout, firing a bunch of people, or moving to the burbs.
I work at a tech company in Manhattan, we have open plan offices because there's really no other option here. But there are things we do which I think help alleviate some of the common complaints I hear:
- Everyone gets an assigned desk, and it's a nice sit/stand which you can put whatever you want on (no stupid "tidyness" rules). Some people have fish tanks, huge monitor collections, libraries, whatever. The "no assigned desk" insanity is, well, insane.
- No offices, period. What's good for the developers is good for the CEO. He's often seen hanging out on the engineering floors.
- Lots of phone booths and meeting rooms if you need privacy.
- Lots of alternative working areas - there's couches everywhere if you want to chill out, a bar area, outside space. There's going to be a dedicated quiet area for people who like silence.
- Totally flexible hours/working schedules - if you're distracted and just want to head out for an hour to clear your head no one's gonna care. If you work better on a table in the park - go for it.
- No desk phones - encourages people to go away from the work area to make phone calls, which keeps noise and distractions down.
I think there are advantages to the open layout over an all office setup - I do like being able to hear what people are talking about because many, many times I've been able to get involved in something I can help with, or learn about something useful. Overall I'm pretty sure if offered the alternative (moving out of the city) pretty much everyone there would vote to stick with what we have.