70% of workplaces have low or no partitions.
However, the open office plan receives quite a bit of unbridled hate in the form of gripes with old coworkers, yearnings for privacy, and general dissatisfaction with the subjective impact on performance. We want to take a look at why it’s so popular, why so many people hate it, and what the future looks like. This is part 1 in a series, where we’re going to explore the pros and cons of the open office plan – click here to read part 2 (making it work), or here to read part 3 (the future).
Why Do Companies Use The Open Office Plan?
Companies inherently seek the next competitive advantage. With as much as 80% of work done today being collaborative, the open office can be a great tool for organizations trying to cut costs while boosting connectivity. Originating in 1950s Germany, popularized by ultra-chic companies adopting the layout in the 1990s, and proliferating through developments in systems furniture and mobile technology, the open office has become a mainstay of contemporary interior design.
Panel-hung systems and mobile furniture are typically more durable and have less expensive repair/refurbishing costs than traditional furniture. Also, it’s easier to clean/redecorate/reconfigure an open floor plan (especially with mobile furniture).
Maximize Real Estate
No partitions means more workers using less space. As companies embrace collaborative and remote work more and more, the need for private, personal enclosures decreases (along with the allocation).
Easier to monitor activity regularly without interrupting, requiring less supervisory staff.
Increased interaction prompts people to know more about whats happening throughout the organization and lends itself to spontaneous innovation.
When team members value the time spent with each other, the developing camaraderie fosters collaboration. Despite the negative buzz it receives, the inception of the open office was pretty benevolent: provide a place to work that enhances communication and fosters community. Transfer from ownership to membership.
Millenials are more interested in learning from their peers than older generations, and collaboration theoretically thrives in an open setting.
Why Do People Hate The Open Office Plan?
Most objections surrounding the open office plan seem to stem from the subjective lack of control over an environment. While they might just be whiners, research displaying data to the detriment of the open office does exist.
Lack of Privacy
Always being watched, employees tend to follow SOP more stringently than they would normally, resulting in a decrease in productivity compared to naturally finding the quickest way to do something.
They might not have you under scrutiny, but it can certainly feel that way. Ever trip in front of 50 sets of eyes? Even thinking about these scenarios can be strenuously embarrassing for some.
While we’d like to assume people aren’t nosy, workers trying to communicate need-to-know information can’t control what others see or hear.
Distractions & Wellbeing
Noise Annoys (and Decreases Productivity)
In a research setting, noise has been shown to correlate with reduced cognitive performance: simple recall, arithmetic, and logical decision-making all take a hit when constantly bombarded by noise from the environment.
Exposure to high levels of stimulation (noise, screens, interactions, etc.) for prolonged periods can trigger increased production of norepinephrine, causing high, unnecessary levels of stress because your body thinks the workplace is attacking. Some studies have even shown increased sick leave taken by workers transitioning into an open office setting.
People Don’t Want to be Cooped Up, But Don’t Want to be Exposed Either. What DO People Want?
All of the contrary evidence surrounding the open office concept indicates that the results are subjective, and we’ll probably only depart from workspaces that feel like “climbing inside a migraine” if we talk more about what works than what we found wrong. Exploring options for your own space? Let’s start the conversation about why you love, hate, or just desperately want to stop hearing about the open office. Or, click below to see a selection of open office plan idea starters we’ve put together!