Is the door closing on open-plan offices?

by Michael Mata04 Oct 2016
Noisy, open-plan office spaces have become a staple in contemporary office life. But after years of listening to employees complain about the disadvantages of working in such environments, some companies are beginning to address the backlash.

Open-plan office spaces were once seen as the future of office culture, as proponents believed their establishment would lead to increased collaboration and innovation among employees.

By getting rid of corner offices and individual rooms, companies also hoped that open-plan office spaces would make their organisations appear less hierarchical.

While there are many benefits to working in such environments, recent studies have shown that open-plan office spaces can negatively impact health, morale, and productivity.

A 2014 Swedish study of more than 1,800 workers found that employees in open-plan offices were twice as likely to take sick days as workers in traditional offices.

The researchers hypothesised that the spread of germs and the increased stress of working in open-office spaces caused employees to get sick more often.

Workers in open-plan offices also universally complain about the lack of privacy (especially when sensitive issues need to be discussed), and have more difficulty concentrating due to the swirl of activity around them.  

Companies aren’t exactly returning to traditional-style offices. Part of the reason is economic. Traditional offices—with their individual rooms, doors, and desks—are far costlier as they require more materials, space, and maintenance. Overheads are also more expensive for traditional office spaces.

To ensure greater productivity and appease employees, many companies are redesigning their offices by installing more private and soundproof meeting areas, conference rooms, and cubicles.

These new areas allow employees to engage in group meetings and one-on-one conversations. They also provide a safe haven to those who might need a little breather from their colleagues.

By adding more private areas to open-plan offices, employers hope to boost morale and productivity, and make work more enjoyable. 

Related Stories:

Do open offices really boost performance?