Pros and cons of an open office

Open offices offer more communication and flexibility, but less privacy. Find out if an open office is the right fit

Open office floor plans are quickly replacing the cubicle-heavy office spaces of yesteryear. While trendy, the open office layout isn’t for everyone. Before you reorganize your office into an open, more social space, consider the pros and cons.

In an open-office environment, employee workstations are located together rather than in individual cubicles or private offices. Despite their rising popularity, research has shown that open offices tend to have more drawbacks than benefits. Still, this research doesn’t negate the open office’s strengths.

What are open office pros?

Better communication between workers

When an office lacks physical barriers, employees are more likely to communicate with one another and work as a team. Naturally, improved communication boosts collaboration efforts between various levels of employees, so even a manager can feel more approachable.

Open offices are also great for freelancers who would otherwise work from home. Renting a work space in an open office gives self-employed workers the chance to communicate and network with other creatives, which can be beneficial to their respective businesses.

There’s even a term for this phenomenon called “culture collision,” which is when chance encounters occur between workers in an open-office space. Culture collisions are conducive to creativity, support, and creating a sense of community.

Cost-effectiveness

Open offices are more cost-effective than traditional cubicles or private offices. With less overhead, you can ensure each employee has the necessary space and equipment to conduct business. Just think how much you can save when you don’t have to buy large individual desks and cubicle walls.

In fact, many small businesses are opting to rent fully furnished private offices with open office layouts located inside dedicated work space buildings. These types of office spaces already include access to high-speed internet, multifunction copiers, common areas, free refreshments, and professional cleaning services. Since this option is much cheaper than leasing an entire building, floor, or office rental, you can invest more money into the company as it grows.

Flexibility

With an open-office plan, you don’t have to commit to a single layout. Open work spaces are designed to maximize flexibility. You can also fit more employees into an open space. As the office grows, you can rearrange the layout however you see fit, or simply move certain teams around. In traditional layouts, you would have to expand the office by renting multiple floors or buildings.

For remote workers and freelancers, shared open offices don’t require any type of commitment whatsoever. You can simply come and go as you please based on your membership. Nothing is more flexible than that.

Better aesthetics

Open offices boast clean lines and trendy vibes that you won’t find in cubicle-laden spaces. In fact, cubicles can make an office feel smaller and more confined. All those unsightly cubicles add nothing to the office’s atmosphere and can even diminish creative thinking.

Cubicles largely came into use during the 1960s, and not much has changed since then. While they do provide privacy, each one is indistinguishable from another, which can make employees feel trapped.

When you opt for an open office, there’s more room to breathe. As such, you and your teammates have more creativity in how you decorate the space.

No more barriers

One of the biggest reasons more businesses are choosing open offices is because the layout removes barriers between employees and supervisors. There are literally no offices for managers to hole up in, which often makes them seem unapproachable.

Without physical barriers, even the founder of a startup can work on the same level as her newest employees without anyone feeling like they’re lower on the rung. Since everyone feels part of the team, there’s an instant increase in employee innovation and communication between departments.

Trendiness

While the open-office layout started as a creative trend, its lasting power is undeniable. Since so many other companies have switched to open offices, businesses stuck in the cubicle age can appear behind the times.

When you meet with fellow business owners, clients, and vendors in your open office, you leave a positive impression on them. Holding a meeting in a traditional office will suddenly appear stuffy and dated to anyone who works in an open-office setting.

This isn’t to say you should make the switch to an open-office layout because everyone else is doing it, but it can be beneficial.

What are the cons of open offices?

Distractions

One of the biggest drawbacks of an open office is the amount of distractions. You’ll hear multiple conversations occurring around you throughout the day, both in person and on the phone. You may even start to notice a co-worker’s annoying little habits, which can draw your attention away from your work.

This isn’t to say that cubicles provide distraction-free work environments. On the contrary, they can be just as loud, but cubicles do provide a sense of privacy that can make it easier to focus.

With an open layout, employees will need to find more innovative ways to drown out co-workers and stay focused. They may also become more considerate of others naturally, which can help keep the noise levels in check.

Lack of privacy

Most people in favor of cubicles tend to dismiss the open-office concept because it doesn’t offer any privacy. When you’re working next to several other people in close quarters, it’s true that you can’t make a private phone call without someone overhearing, but many co-working spaces account for this issue by offering private phone booths on-site.

While a lack of privacy can be a downside, it also has its benefits. Workers are more likely to stay focused and keep those private phone calls and texts to a minimum.

Naturally, a lack of barriers also gives bosses the ability to keep an eye on employees. While this is certainly a pro for the boss, it can be a con for the employee who feels anxious about always being watched.

Stress

Given their lack of privacy and increased distractions, open-office spaces can be more stressful on employees. In fact, research has shown open offices tend to cause age discrimination because older workers are more likely to deal with anxiety, cardiac issues, and digestive problems from the stressful environment. When this happens, they quit. Older candidates are also more likely to be passed over for younger applicants in open-office environments.

Since employees feel as if they constantly need to give the appearance of productivity, they start to multitask more, which often leads to frustration and ineffectiveness. Open-back visibility, in particular, can cause neurological problems like vertigo. It can also make a worker feel paranoid that someone is always looking over his shoulder.

Germs

Without cubicles or walls, an employee fighting a cold is more likely to spread it to surrounding co-workers. In the worst-case scenario, the entire staff gets sick and productivity wanes as more employees need to take sick days.

While you can’t do much to avoid the spread of germs in an open-office environment, you can stress the importance of employee handwashing, desk sanitizing, and staying home sick rather than bringing the illness into the office.

Open office layout ideas

With the open-office concept, the layout possibilities are endless. You can utilize any space regardless of size to maximize productivity.

Desk groups

Try grouping a few desks together where the employees face one another but still have space to walk around their grouping. This layout is particularly effective for teams or departments since each group can communicate openly but still feel separated from other “departments.”

Reduced open-back visibility

Many open-office layouts simply line desks against walls or in front of windows to give workers a nice view and more natural light. While this can be a nice layout, you should try minimizing open-back visibility. Instead of having employees facing a wall or window, try turning the desks so each one faces into the room.

Diverse spaces

An open office doesn’t have to have the same layout across the entire room. Create unique desk groupings and private spaces for different needs. Having private phone booths, for instance, is a great way to reduce anxiety in an open office and give workers a break from the monotony. Adding couches for employee use is also a great way to encourage movement throughout the space.

Given the many benefits and options for creating the ideal open office, why not take advantage of the ongoing trend? Cultivate creativity and a sense of belonging with the modern office.

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