In recent years, the open office design has been rising in popularity. The idea behind it is to create an open working environment, free of the traditional cubicles and individual office spaces associated with a business building. Instead, the open office typically features long desks occupied by multiple employees, wide open rooms, and little to no private offices. Sometimes these offices can even blend the structure of an office with the leisure of a lounge, offering large sofas and even ping pong tables. And many businesses and employers believe that this is the best possible way of encouraging thinking, creativity and collaboration within an office. But is it?
According to a report from Forbes, a study was conducted by the University of Sydney on employees’ overall happiness with working in an open office setting. The study included 42,764 observations from over 300 office buildings. And the results were surprising.
Contrary to the popular belief of the superiority of open office designs, many believed that open office designs were worse than the traditional office space. However, the study found that employees with private cubicles and office spaces were more satisfied with their work environment than those in an open office layout. One of the key contributing factors to this was noise level. 25 to 30% of the employees in open office designs complained about the noise in the office. And this is not a one time issue. According to a separate study from Gensler, 70% of those surveyed had complaints about the noise levels in their open office design.
Some others argue that open office settings are incredibly distracting. Because of the lack of privacy, those in the midst of a conversation can easily distract nearby employees, not only with work-related discussions, but with social chatter as well. This can make it incredibly difficult to focus on work.
Speaking of privacy, another common complaint is the lack thereof. If an employee needs to take a private phone call or write a sensitive email, they no longer have the convenience of a cubicle to deter busybodies and prying eyes.
All of these factors compiled on top of each other can result in decreased employee morale, which then hurts productivity.
Open offices are not terrible. Several companies get along fine with open layouts while others struggle. It all depends on finding the right type of environment for the right type of employee. So if you’re considering an open office design, you might want to rethink.