What Do Employees Think of Open Office Designs?

Before you start tearing down your walls and stripping your workspace of cubicles all for the glory of productivity and collaboration, consider the open office disign trend has been around for a while and see what those with experience say about it.

The open office concept creates sunny, open workspaces intended to make collaboration and spontaneous creativity easier. It rids the barriers of cubicle walls and private offices so every employee can feel like they are part of the action. It’s easy to see why this type of office plan exploded into popularity. Employees who live it though, soon begin to resent the downside that accompanies a lack of private space.

Benefits of Open Office Plans

Generally, open office plans have a roomier and airier feel than your traditional office. This can often have significant benefits for your employees.

According to a FastCompany article, researchers realized that “high ceilings seemed to put test participants in a mindset of freedom, creativity, and abstraction, whereas the lower ceilings prompting more confined thinking.”

Another factor found to boost productivity in open office plans is abundant natural light. Open office spaces make the most of office windows since they’re not blocked by partitions or office walls.

Sunlight is a documented mood booster; it makes people happier and therefore, more productive at work. Studies even show that working close to a window can help workers sleep better at night, increasing the probability they’ll come to work the next day energized and refreshed.

Finally, doing away with the traditional hierarchy that gives higher-ups disproportionately more office space, bigger windows, and overall better real estate (the corner office) sends a message about culture. In open office floor plans, employees of every level and all departments typically work together in the same area. This helps enforce the idea that every employee’s contributions are significant and makes company leaders accessible to everyone.

integrated office design services. Open office design

The Drawbacks of Open Offices (And What Employees Really Think)

Despite the significant benefits of open office design, the downsides are quite substantial as well. Open office plans can make it significantly more difficult for employees get things done. 

Among the many workplace trends that instigate grumbling (budget cuts that reduce perks or pressure to check and answer email after hours) perhaps none produce as much vitriol and contempt as open offices. For many employees, the constant noise, distractions, and complete lack of privacy lead to a degree of temporary insanity, daily. 

This story is typical of many common complaints regarding open offices that you will hear from employees in an open office environment:

“Ugh. My desk is in a very open area of a highly trafficked office. It can be difficult to focus, and privacy is a concern. Even if I’m “on lunch,” I never feel like I can check personal email/browse the internet because someone is always walking by and commenting on my screen.”

Or this person who doesn’t feel they can be as effective because they worry about judgment from coworkers:

“I spend a lot of my time on the phone, and a good chunk of that is making outbound calls. In an open-plan office. It would definitely be easier on me to have privacy – like an office with a door I can shut – for making effective calls (mostly because I worry about how silly I sound if my coworkers overhear me, rather than because they distract me, I prefer it when they are noisy!). But it is also really useful to have my coworkers and team tell me their ideas and answer my questions without having to make much effort. My perfect situation lies somewhere in between an open plan and complete segregation, but probably leans more towards the latter.”

As an introvert myself, this person’s experience gives me chills:

“I’m an introvert, and I find my office’s open floor plan and organizational culture completely counterproductive to my being able to concentrate and get work done! My coworkers frequently take/make personal calls, listen to music without headphones, conduct meetings in our shared spaces, and have extended personal, non-work conversations all day long. People prefer face-to-face conversations for almost everything, when an email would suffice, so I get constant interruptions from people stopping by my cube all day long. Occasionally I can work from home, and find I am MUCH more productive and relaxed when I do so!”

This on is an unusual case of someone who enjoys their open office but has to resort to crawling under the desk for phone calls:

“I work in an open office and while I love it for interacting with coworkers, it’s also sometimes the hub for gathering, and people don’t take the hint when you’re on the phone. I’ve had to take conference calls under my desk because it was so loud. Once, my boss was even in our office area and saw this but did nothing.”

If you are still convinced that an open office layout promotes collaboration, this employee’s story might make you think twice:

“I work in an open office environment as well. I actually used to have an office but we moved to a new building and my company decided to be real “edgy” with the layout for collaboration and blah blah blah, which means I spend my day struggling to focus on a job that requires a whole lot of it. Headphones help somewhat, but what ends up happening is that everyone is wearing headphones so no one can actually collaborate. We’re all constantly waving in each other’s faces and taking our headphones on and off. It’s honestly the dumbest professional experience I’ve ever had.”

Why is it still a trend?

They don’t promote collaboration as much as previously thought. They stifle productivity with noise and distraction. They discourage potentially effective communication and behaviors from fear of judgment from coworkers.

Why are companies continuing to build open office floorplans?

To save money, of course:

“I work at an interior design firm that specializes in commercial offices. Oftentimes, these open office situations are put into play because it is a cost savings for the company (more people in less space, often saving money on a new office or major renovation to accommodate company growth). Also, almost every approval for this is being made by someone high up enough that they won’t be affected by it. They overlook the value of employees’ happiness, not realizing that the distraction and lack of privacy can be detrimental to employees’ job satisfaction. Ultimately, in their goal to save building/space cost, they increase turnover and rarely do they realize the connection.”

Studio shot of two L-shaped desks, with full sized windows on each side. A Graphic posture back chair is placed at each workstation.Open office design.


If not open office designs, than what? 

Companies that do understand the connection are now leaning toward the “collaborative office” design as is includes a mix of open and private spaces as well as flexible spaces that can do both.

A collaborative type of floor plan is designed with balance in mind. Quiet private spaces are available for those needing to do focused work or make calls, while strategically placed meeting spaces allow for social interaction and serendipitous collaboration.

Huddle spaces and conference rooms are available for team interactions. The balance of private space and social space allows all social types to thrive, and happy employees make a happy company!

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