Open office plans are trendy. Proponents often point to the collaborative effects and aesthetic appeal. Since open offices are so trendy and popping up everywhere, they must be great! However, there is a serious downside to open office layouts, and the effects of an open office on worker wellness cannot be ignored.
Open Office Plans: The Pros
There are several pros to open office layouts. They include:
- Increased opportunity for collaboration
- Increased opportunity to collaborate with a worker outside of your department
- Diversity of ideas
- Sharing of ideas and opinions
- Opportunity to chat and build personal connections with coworkers
- Decreased feelings of isolation among employees
- Flexibility to arrange and easily re-arrange and/or add spaces to the office layout
- Cost savings on overhead and/or cubicle/office construction
- Sends a message to workers that there are no “ivory towers” or barriers within the organization
It’s easy to see why so many employers are moving toward open offices. There is more demand for high-thought work in North America, and high performance organizations are growing quickly. Collaboration and sharing of ideas is essential to the growth of successful high-performance companies. It’s all about thinking outside of the box, trying new things, and breaking moulds. That can’t happen if it’s the same old c-suite coming together without bringing in new life. Innovation and growth happens when all ideas from all departments from all workers are heard, considered, and tested for success. An open office can be conducive to such idea sharing, brainstorming, and collaboration.
Open Office Plans: The Cons
There are several cons to open office layouts. They include:
- Increased distraction
- Decreased productivity
- Inability to focus
- Feelings of isolation may increase, in some cases
- Lack of privacy
- Inability to speak frankly with superiors due to lack of appropriate meeting space
- Overhearing too many personal or confidential business conversations
- Decreased job satisfaction related to lack of control over personal workspace
- Increased conflict
- Possible opportunity for sexism
- Increased turnover
Open office spaces take a toll on employee wellness. Inability to think or focus, produce quality work, and lack of privacy can all create undue stress and job dissatisfaction among workers. For some employees, dealing with constant noise and distraction while trying to complete high-thought or high-focus tasks, can result in mental exhaustion by day’s end. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Bospar PR, 76% of workers polled indicated that they “hated” open office spaces. Yes — hate. Employees that hate them enough may start looking for alternative employment. Organizations are at risk of losing employees and increased recruitment and orientation training costs.
Perhaps the most surprising downfall to open offices spaces is that they may be sexist. Olivia Harvey recently published an article about how open office spaces are creating more barriers for women in the corporate world. She suggests that women who work in open office spaces are subject to more scrutiny, and face more judgment based on their appearance. This caused the women to subtly change their appearance: start dressing more corporate, start wearing more makeup, start self-monitoring emotions, etc. In the same article, which examined a study of women and men who transitioned from traditional offices to open ones, the men did not feel that they were subject to increased scrutiny and did not change their appearance habits in response.
Open Office Plans: The Effect on Wellness
Whether or not open office plans affect wellness is unclear; however, despite the proponents arguing for collaboration, it seems that overall open office spaces are extremely difficult on the workers who must try to focus and produce quality work. That being said, if collaboration or sharing of ideas is the biggest loss-risk of taking away an open concept office, there are many other ways and tools available to increase collaboration without everyone sharing one big work area. For example, Slack, Trello, SmartSheets, and all of the shared workspaces (such as GoogleDrive and OneDrive) are all ways that teams can come together remotely in order to collaborate. The best thing about these tools is that they don’t even require workers to be in the office at all. This accommodates remote workers, workers in various areas of the office building, and workers who prefer to work behind closed doors. With today’s focus being so high on flexibility to work where and when is best, and with so many workers disliking the concept of open offices, perhaps it’s time to change focus. Imagine the possibilities when the concept of an office is removed entirely.
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
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