The confluence of a couple of recent writings got me back on the "quiet" thing. One is the recent publication of the book "Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking" (which is much less about power and much more about it's ok to be an introvert) and an article about the architecture firm NBBJ that is promoting really open space office plans. One of their more recent engagements is the new home of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for their 1000 or so employees.
Connecting the dots......
If you've ever taken the Myers-Briggs assessment, then you know a bit about the I's and E's (introverts and extroverts). The most profound thing I learned is that the I's are exhausted by interaction with people and need quiet isolation to recharge; the E's are just the opposite, exhausting themselves with quiet and needing people to recharge their batteries.
So, when I read about really open office plans with no cubes and no offices, I think first of the I's: what an exhausting day that's going to be. Then, I think of all the energy the E's will contribute.
Of course, many E's are closet I's. They have a professional E personality so they can compete in business (corollary: it's hard to be competitive with others if you've no working relationships with others, certain SME eccentrics excepted because we have to have them). The closet I's go home at the end of the day totally wasted; or after about 8-10 hours, there're not much good to anyone, including themselves.
On the other hand, I've been in a situation (for years) with an office I never used and an open plan I sat in so I could absorb the body language and other small stuff you can't get any other way. Alistair Cockburn calls this communication by osmosis (or osmotic communication).
And, I subscribe to the school that says that innovation is more likely to come out of colloboration than not. (Of course, one wonders about all the innovation that came out the Bell System Labs populated by all the I's with pocket protectors!). So, on balance, I think the I's (or professional E's) have to suck it up and be open!