In businesses across the country, cubicle walls are coming down. New companies eliminate walls from the start. Employees can quickly scan the immediate area and locate fellow team members who are hard at work alongside them. By eliminating the need to send emails or wander the office searching for people, organizations are sure that teams will collaborate more, benefiting their bottom line.
However, the trend has had more than its fair share of critics. Some studies have shown that the negatives outweigh the positives. Whether you're considering an open-plan office or you've already created one, here are a few pros and cons to consider.
Less Expensive but More Distractions
Many businesses choose an open-plan layout to save money. More desks can be squeezed into the space, which means even as new employees are added, they can be squeezed in without having to scale to a larger space. Reduced square footage also means less in monthly utilities. Since so many professionals spend at least part of each day on the road, the less wasted space a business can have, the better.
Opponents argue that this cost savings is negated by the productivity loss experts have reported. If workers are wasting precious minutes each day trying to concentrate, they'll merely be occupying a desk, which won't benefit your company's bottom line at all. There's also the issue of client phone calls, which can be difficult to conduct in a noisy office full of employees.
Improved Culture but Lower Morale
In designing their open-plan offices, many businesses have been inspired by the startup culture of Silicon Valley. They hear stories about Google's nap pods and Facebook's game room and assume they can create a similar culture at their headquarters. These new workspaces can be much more visually appealing than rows of cubicles or walled-off spaces, especially for businesses that are upgrading from a design that was put in place years ago.
As attractive as these offices can be, though, employees tend to surround themselves with invisible walls. They use noise-canceling headphones and focus on their computer screens to the exclusion of all else. If those around the employee can't communicate, the absence of walls has no benefit whatsoever.
Increased Visibility but Security Concerns
It's hard to hide when you have no walls. It takes away the temptation to spend the day shopping for household goods on Amazon or checking social media every 15 minutes. In an open-plan environment, supervisors can keep an eye on their workers, easily determining which employees are at their desks and which aren't. Primarily, this type of workplace seems to encourage workers to be on their best behavior since they're so visible. You'll also find over time that an open-plan office cuts down employees hanging out in each other's spaces to chitchat, since they're always aware they can be seen.
However, this same environment can lead to understandable security concerns, especially from an IT standpoint. Every screen is easily visible, making it difficult for employees to hide customer social security and credit card numbers, along with other information. If their work requires them to talk on the phone, team members may also find it difficult to keep customer data confidential from those nearby, especially since so many people are located in close proximity to each other.
Increased Flexibility but Risk of Illnesses
Open-plan layouts give businesses a flexibility they wouldn't have otherwise had with cubicle walls. Not only does redesigning involve less work, they can set up an environment where employees can work at different spots throughout the day. Many successful workspaces incorporate a combination of standing desks, lounge areas with sofas, and tables where employees can gather.
Unfortunately, with multiple people working in close quarters, businesses stand a higher risk of absenteeism and health claims due to illness. If one employee comes into work sick, those who work nearby could catch that virus and be sick, as well. In an open-plan office, it's more important than ever that employers encourage workers to stay home when they're sick.
Open-plan workplaces have become the norm in businesses across America. By understanding the pros and cons, you can prepare your office spaces to minimize issues and get the most out of a collaborative environment, or even avoid the open-office altogether.