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Open-Plan Offices Are the Worst (Says a Study)


All the hype about open workspaces is finally being refuted, thanks to a little study that found open floorplans to be detrimental to productivity. We’ll examine the facts to see how workstation “openness” results in many employees feeling exposed, rather than liberated.

open-plan office privacy issues

(Photo Credit: hyku/Flickr)

The original intent for open workspaces, other than the obvious cost-savings for companies, was that tearing down the physical walls around employees would encourage co-workers to let their walls down, too (figuratively speaking, of course), thus promoting a magical collaboration that wouldn’t be possible if everyone was confined to an office.

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That sounds great and all – a casual run-in with a co-worker leads to a million-dollar idea – but, did no one consider the potential drawbacks of completely exposing employees and expecting them to continue with business as usual? That’s like a father telling his teenage daughter that moving her room to the living room is going to promote a healthier level of interaction and bond for the family. We’re sure the daughter will have no qualms about that nifty idea. Right?

Many of the most successful tech conglomerates, such as Google and Facebook, have put open-plan offices on the map, so why isn’t it working for the vast majority of businesses? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sarah Green provides four problem areas that “breaking down the walls” between employees creates:

1. Sound privacy – When there aren’t any walls to lend you a bit of privacy during a phone conversation, everyone can hear what you’re saying, and that makes for an uncomfortable situation. Newbies, especially, will feel even more insecure and vulnerable if they have more seasoned employees eavesdropping on their conversations with clients.

2. Visual privacy – Want to secretly scan through your social media feeds for a quick second, or surf the Internet in between tasks? Forget about it. Someone is bound to see what you’re doing and, most likely, report your actions. No one wants to feel like they have someone looking over their shoulder while they’re at work.

3. Noise level – Without walls to block out noise, you hear anything and everything going on around you, including the annoying chatting that happens all around the office. Everything from the printer, to your co-worker’s conversation, to the sound of people typing in the office will undoubtedly interfere with your work and create constant distractions throughout the day.

Forbes also adds that open-plan offices attribute to the spread of germs and increasing the likelihood of employees getting sick and taking time off due to illness. Sharing germs is not what we mean when we say “sharing is caring.” BuzzFeed seems to understand what we’re getting at with 24 more reasons why open-plan offices simply don’t work out. Read at your own discretion.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you work in an open-plan office? Share with our community on Twitter whether you love the freedom or hate the lack of privacy at work, or share your story in the comments section below.

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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