How Open Office Spaces Impact Worker Productivity

 Having wide-open office spaces is a trend that has gained popularity in recent years. While the concept seems like it would foster community, it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, there are some definite downsides to tearing down the walls and cubicles of a workspace. Instead of increasing kumbayah moments and upping productivity, lack of privacy in communal office spaces has resulted in some problematic side effects.

Lack of Privacy 

Employers usually eliminate cubicles and private offices so that their workers can bond and bounce ideas off of each other. This can happen to some degree, but the flipside is that the lack of privacy can also lead to more stress. Employees moved from private spaces into open workrooms have reported feeling:
  • Distant 
  • Dissatisfied 
  • Resentful 
  • Helpless

Disturbing Noise Levels

When you have multiple employees sharing a workspace, it can get pretty noisy. Psychological studies show that constant clatter can impair work function and, after a few hours, can even generate a fight-or-flight response. Brainstorming with coworkers may be one way to spark ideas, but individuals also need quiet time to simply think. In communal workspaces, there are plenty of noisy distractions, such as:
  •  Coworkers’ conversations
  •  Teammates’ phone calls
  •  Jokes being told 
  •  Music playing

Increased Germs

It’s not just the emotional health of workers that suffers in open floor plans. Employees who share airspace and table space also share germs. When illness rates of workers in open offices were studied, it was found that:
  •  Flu bugs wiped out teams of coworkers like dominos. 
  • Absenteeism rates increased proportionately to the number of cohorts sharing space.

Some Benefits

There are also some benefits to having an entire team of workers share one large workroom. Even though individuals have less control over their environment, increased noise to contend with, and more germs being sneezed their way, they also gained a few perks. For example, the workers were able to:
  •  Spend more time socializing with their coworkers 
  •  Develop camaraderie 
  •  Feel like they were part of an innovative team 
  •  Derive a symbolic sense of their organization’s mission

Possible Solutions

Successfully producing quality work might be more difficult in shared workspaces, but there are a few ways that the challenges might be minimized. Some potential solutions include:
While wide-open, airy office spaces filled with coworkers might seem to be a progressive, friendly way to get the job done, there are detriments to employee morale and productivity that should be considered. Wise employers might consider adding physical spaces and practices for privacy, so workers can have a bit of solitude when they need it. Image courtesy of marin's portfolio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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  1. Most employees prefer closed offices.

  2. An open office environment may appear great. It brings workers together and allows them to easily collaborate on projects. However there are a few downsides and they can affect productivity.

  3. Neither open or closed plan offices are perfect for any one situation or individual. The ‘right balance’ is required. Any office design is likely to involve trade-offs for the workers, with some positives and negatives.

  4. I have worked in all different kinds of offices, and I definitely prefer not being in an open space. It can make it hard to concentrate when you are hearing and seeing everyone else. Some measure of privacy, even just walls between work stations, can make a huge difference.

  5. I think office design is an important factor to consider for an open plan. If an open plan office has a great design with the intention to maximise efficiency and productivity; while still considering the wellness of the employee, then there should be no problem.

  6. I work in an open office and I absolutely love it. I do think that an open office creates a better team building atmosphere. However, I do also see why an open office can be a bad thing. Sometimes, my office gets rather loud and it can be hard to focus on our work. But, for the most part, it is a great atmosphere.


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