The Reason You Hate Your Open-Plan Office Is Because It Sucks

Do you work in an office with an open floor plan? Do you hate your office-without-walls? If you do: you’re not alone. Research finds that roughly 70% of offices have an open plan, and that those workspaces are bad for you in pretty much every way.

A write-up this week in the New Yorker brings together a huge pile of research on all the ways the open-plan office is bad for the workers who have to work in it. Some of the complaints are entirely predictable: open offices are noisier and have less privacy than ones with some kind of dividing wall.

The concept of an open office is meant to foster a sense of collaboration and openness among colleagues. Break down the physical barriers, the logic goes, and the intangible barriers to communication and teamwork come down too.

The reality, though, doesn’t seem to work as smoothly. The New Yorker reports that although employees in open floor plan offices do feel that their workspaces signal more innovative or laid-back attitudes from their companies, research finds that the spaces are “damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”

As compared to the supposedly dreaded cubeville, employees in open offices “experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.”

A productive and healthy work environment isn’t just about workers meeting their metrics; morale, stress, concentration, motivation, and a whole host of other intangible feelings have a huge effect on employees and their output.

Privacy is hardly all about being able to sneak in the occasional Maru video or Facebook post, either. Some work areas, including HR, finance, and legal, have genuine confidentiality concerns. It’s a pain making any kind of business-related phone call when everyone and their grandmother is making noise (or worse, being eerily silent) around you. And most of us write, edit, and create better when we don’t constantly feel as if someone is staring at our work-in-progress over our shoulders.

Looks like there are good reasons why getting to move the corner office has always been considered a huge perk.

The Open-Office Trap [New Yorker]

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  1. Raekwon says:

    My work just built a new building and this is exactly what we are moving to. All offices have glass walls (not frosted), cubes are half height and partially glass, and everyone can see and hear everyone else. Hooray.