The pros and cons of an open office environment

Simon Collins
Written by Simon Collins

70 percent of workers in the U.S. work in an open office. The Don Draper-esque corner office is a thing of the past, and businesses are starting to believe in a more collaborative, more transparent working environment. The walls have come down, and many businesses are reaping the benefits.

And the benefits are vast. From reduced costs and increased communication, to greater flexibility and a rise in teamwork.

But that’s only one side of the story. An open office environment isn’t always sunshine and lollipops. Some business cultures thrive in a traditional office outfit. The questions is: What’s best for you and your business?

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of an open office environment so you can make a more informed decision.

Hold your horses – what's an open office layout, exactly?

Before we jump into the pros and cons, let’s take a moment to clarify what an open office is. For the uninitiated, an open office design removes the concept of walls as barriers to people productivity.

This looks like some combination of:

  • Big open tables.
  • Desks with 2 or more people sat together.
  • Clusters of cubicles.
  • Possibly an open lounge and kitchen as well.
  • People laughing together not only at the water cooler, but also at their desks, too.

So, what are the pros?

Pro #1 It improves communication

In an open office environment, it’s natural and easy for employees to communicate with each other. That’s because the biggest barrier to communication (walls) simply no longer exist.

And communication in the workplace is a key-driver of business success. According to Dr Michelle Rosen, at the Huffington Post:

“Workplace communication is vital to an organisation’s ability to be productive and to operate smoothly.”

So, if your culture is lacking communication, or if more collaboration is a key-goal for your business, an open office can help push things forward.

Pro #2 It’s cheaper

Cutting costs is a straightforward way for a business to improve its bottom-line. And an open office layout is a more cost-effective office space. Here’s how it works out cheaper:

  • Cubicles, or walls to create private offices cost money. The open office doesn’t have them.
  • It requires less floor-space when you have an open office.
  • You save on the time taken to construct cubicles and walls.

So, for the new cash and time-strapped start-up (or any business looking to cut costs) the open office is essential.

Download Bureaucracy must die ebook

Pro #3 It’s more flexible

The open office doesn’t require you to commit to a single layout. This is helpful if your company is growing, or when your business is in transition and you’re planning to move teams around.

When your office space is flexible, it also enables you to experiment with the best way to organise the work space. For example, you might try putting sales and marketing teams close together to ensure the leads coming through from marketing are well-suited for the sales team to convert.

With the flexibility of the open office, you can try this for a month, but then change things back if you don’t see the results you want. Easy.

What are the downsides of the open office?

So, there are some compelling pros to the open office layout. But it certainly isn’t a one-sided debate. Before you proclaim your everlasting love for the open office layout, let’s look at the cons.

Con #1 Distractions are killing productivity

80 percent of employees list noisy workplaces and chatty co-workers as distractions that hurt their productivity.

The biggest downside levelled at the open office layout is that it’s distracting to employees and means less work gets done.

Instead of getting priority work done, employees chat about what they did at the weekend, or chime in with ideas and unproductive work-chat instead of doing real work.

And then, just when things settle down and everyone is working hard, the new hire has a guided tour of the office, which distracts everyone… again.

There’s no getting away from the fact that to do deep work, you need silence. And the open office creates a lot of sound, movement, and interruption.

The  Journal of Environmental Psychology states:

“Quiet workspaces, and the perceived ease of access to them, are associated with environmental perceptions, perceived collaboration and employee stress in open-plan offices.”

Distractions are affecting employees negatively and hurting companies bottom line. And open offices are full of distractions.

Con #2 Erosion of privacy

Another con of the open office layout is that it tends to destroy privacy. This means that employees feel less confident and relaxed in their own space. For introverts, the open office can be an intimidating place, which leads to an unhappy and unproductive employee.

What’s worse, the lack of privacy can lead to issues for your company. In many industries, privacy breaches can cause legalities, so depending on your sector, the open office could be a ticking time bomb for potential privacy breaches.

Have your cake and eat it, too

It’s important to note that there’s no reason to commit to only one layout style. An open office can sit with private offices next door.

Can you have your cake and eat it, too? We think so.

What’s best for your business?

There are clear pros and cons to the open office. You gain communication, flexibility, and cut costs. But on the downside, you risk eroding productivity and privacy.

What’s best for your business depends on your goals for the workplace. Do you work in an industry where privacy breaches are all too real? Cubicles might be essential. Are you a new start-up with little cash, and in need of a flexible, collaborative workspace? An open office could be best.

Want our advice? Take advantage of both. Mix open and closed working spaces to create a working environment with enough privacy that doesn’t hinder collaboration. Just do it mindfully and be aware of the pros and cons of your design decisions.

Download your copy of Bureaucracy Must Die

pros and cons , workplace , Office

You might also like...