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Open or Private? The Office Dilemma

Design, General information November 22nd 2016

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, the designs of office space has changed dramatically over the years, especially after a backlash felt over the 1980s and 90s. The “Google Office” concept has taken over the office interior industry by storm over the last few years… LEGO HQ has been one of the big players having incorporated this concept into their office space, as well as Yahoo, Facebook and Linkedin. Businessman Michael Bloomberg once stated that the open plan office layout “promoted transparency and fairness”, encouraging a productive and friendly environment to work in.

“About 70% of US Offices have low or no partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association.”

Is it the most practical design though? Is it for everyone? Keen to look into this, we have gathered some information, gathering the advantages and disadvantages for you and finding the following results…

The Advantages of an open plan office layout

Shari Parsons Miller wrote an article for the “Houston Chronicle” expressing what they think the advantages of having an open office are. She explains that an open office “rids the sense of isolation”. This, in turn, encourages team work amongst employees. Friendships amongst colleagues will also be strengthened, which will make them more inclined to work effectively together.

“A lack of walls or other physical barriers in open-plan office spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis.”

Arguably one of the most important advantages of an open plan office is the cost effectiveness. The open layout will mean there is no need for construction work to create office spaces. The maintenance required is also less as there are fewer rooms to deal with. Bench desks are a cost effective technique to use when creating work space and often work out more economical as opposed to single desk systems.

“Things are easier for the supervisors, as everyone is in a centralized area.”

Paul Smith at has mentioned having an open space makes it easier for both the staff and management. There is no need for anybody to search around individual offices in the hopes of trying to track anybody down, thus making the communication between teams easier and more efficient.

Open offices can also be more “adaptable”. It is easy for the office to be changed around should you require it, without the restrictions caused by office dimensions. Perfect for any new starters or when you fancy a change of “office scenery”.

The Disadvantages of an open plan office layout

The expression “swings and roundabouts” comes to mind. Of course, it is difficult to please everybody and designing an office space is no exception. Lindsey Kaufman wrote an article for the Washington Post in 2014 and that was the inspiration for this blog. I have never really thought about how much of an effect the office layout could have on individual employees!

“A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance.”

Kaufman wrote the article explaining her dislike towards the open office concept. One of the main issues that has been addressed is the amount of “excess noise” that seems to travel across the office. This is a subject that other articles we found, seem to mirror.

“The environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking and satisfaction.”

The “noisy set up” has also been mentioned by Sravani at “Content Wisestep”. They confirm that a louder environment often arises when “all employees start to talk at the same time”. This, in addition to frequent phone calls, is what could be a major cause of distraction and frustration for those who like to work a little quieter.

Another problem that we found was the “difficulty to climatize to everybody else’s needs”. Having a few members of staff in the one room will make it difficult for everyone to agree with the air temperature… Some might feel the cold more than others. This could spark disagreements between employees regarding the air conditioning or whether the windows are opened or closed… All showing how difficult it really is to please everyone!

“A lack of privacy” has been mentioned as a disadvantage throughout the articles that we found. Having everyone so close to you may make you somewhat self-conscious. The feeling that your every move and your screens are being monitored and that every phone conversation is being listened to may make you feel uneasy. The “Big Brother is watching you” effect that could be created may become a huge disruption, lowering morale and therefore productivity in the office may suffer.

Lastly, another problem that we found is that the open office layout creates an environment that makes you prone to illness if one (or more) of your colleagues is unwell. The large, open space makes it easier for germs to spread amongst the team. Although working in friendly, close quarters has it’s perks, managers could become more likely to find employees becoming sick at the same time.

The Possible Solutions

There are of course 2 sides to every argument. So what could designers do to create a “middle ground”. We have seen a sharp increase in demand for acoustic products. Wall and ceiling tiles can be incorporated into the office space to control the noise levels within the office. The designs of such products are now colourful, bright and creative, as well as practical, to ensure that they fit into any office workspace. There has also been an increase in demand for “acoustic meeting pods”, which are ideal for private meetings and a chance to “get away from it all”. Another great advantage of these “rooms within rooms” is that no building work is needed within the space.

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