Everyone likes to boast about open office spaces as if they’re the best thing since sliced bread. A collaborative environment where walls barely exist, lounge areas are in every corner, and snacks and ideas can be easily shared with coworkers around you. But what most won’t tell you is that open office spaces are riddled with distractions, often doing the opposite of what they are intended: dragging productivity down. Open office spaces may not be right for every employer or employee, but are there positive aspects to the layout at all?
Of course. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into the pros and cons of the open office layout and identify which types of businesses can benefit from it most. Open office layouts one-size-fits-all. Doing the research and picking the right layout can mean the difference between stagnation and success.
Open Office Spaces
In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the modern open office plan originally designed by 20th century architect Frank Lloyd Wright became the answer to the economic and population strains of the workforce. Tearing down walls meant more employees could fit into the same sized space without increasing operational costs. But the open office layout Wright created is far different than the one touted by offices around the globe. Rather than incorporating a focus on natural light and plenty of space between employees, modern open office layouts tend to cram employees into a small space, placing them side-by-side for “enhanced collaboration and productivity.” There may be positive aspects of this office layout, but the numerous cons prove the idealized version of open office spaces is far from reality.
The Positive Side of Open Office Layouts
Proponents of open office layouts often cite increased collaboration as a major selling factor, but this positive only applies if the layout is done correctly. Sitting employees next to each other randomly seems like it would foster communication and collaboration that otherwise wouldn’t happen, when in reality it could do more harm than good. If situated away from the coworkers they typically collaborate with, employees are more likely to turn to email or instant message to contact them. Instead, separate employees based off of teams or groups that already collaborate daily. When members of teams are in close proximity to each other, they’ll opt to communicate in real-time more often than turning to sending an email or instant message.
Breaking down walls and replacing standing desks with one long table is a no-brainer if you’re concerned about costs. One study found that purchasing 50 cubicles cost around $60,000, while 50 individual standing desks would only set your business back $24,000. While standing desks may seem like a great alternative monetarily, think about it in terms of square footage: research shows the popularity of open office plans dropped the square footage per employee by one-third in the past seven years. Turning that into costs, adopting an open office plan would save large corporations like JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America around a billion dollars per year. Of course, cost is just one part of the equation. Consider the cons of this office plan before making the jump just to save a bit of change.
Unlike traditional office spaces, open office layouts are designed to be flexible. If an influx of new workers comes onboard, you can easily tack on more chairs to the end of a table or slide a desk anywhere there’s room. Or, if your employees feel the current layout of desks and chairs is hindering their productivity, changing it up is quick and painless. There are no walls to break down or large cubicles to rearrange; change is always welcome, so your space can grow along with your business.
Negativity Out in the Open
Despite open office layouts being marketed as the best design for communication and collaboration, studies have found the layout to be anything but. A 2018 study found that in every case analyzed, face-to-face communication dropped by 70% in open office spaces, while electronic communication increased. Rather than being encouraged to talk to nearby coworkers, employees tended to socially withdraw out of fear of being too loud or disrupting others.
Along the same lines, distractions in open office spaces are impossible to avoid. While most employees have been shown to shut down socially, open office layouts mean no barriers, so every conversation — on the phone or in-person — can create noise that walls would have prevented. Even if employees are cognizant of others and take conversations in private areas, employees sitting in close proximity to one another may find themselves getting annoyed by small ticks or habits of others. Pen-clicking, foot tapping, and even loud chewing can all distract employees from their work.
Decreased Productivity & Lowered Employee Morale
Between decreased communication, a plethora of distractions, and lack of privacy, productivity is bound to suffer. The open office layout may have been designed with an increase in productivity in mind, but studies show that 1 in 3 employees feel distractions and noise inevitable in open work spaces negatively impacts their productivity. One in six employees also say the added distractions and noise hinder their creativity.
Taking decreased productivity into account is vital for businesses to accurately assess whether open office plans are worth the investment, but employers also need to consider employee morale. One in eight employees working in open office spaces said they’ve considered leaving their job simply because of the layout and feel resentment toward executives with private offices.
Not Worth the Risk
Open office plans look great on paper: Put all of your employees in the same room to eliminate hierarchy and facilitate collaboration while saving a significant amount of money in operational costs. In reality, open office spaces do little as promised. Instead of increasing communication, open office plans hinder productivity and can cost your business something more valuable than money: your employees. Unless you’re a freelancer looking for shared working spaces to interact with like-minded professionals, open floor plans may not be the right choice for your business.
At Nexus Workspaces, we’ve moved away from the traditional office and created a unique alternative designed for professionals to succeed. From executive-style offices to shared workspaces, our office spaces and expansive services fit the needs of any business — small startups, medium-sized firms, and large corporations alike. Visit us online or at one of our Florida locations to see how a new layout and new environment can boost your productivity, connectedness, and networking.