Why the Open Concept Office Needs to Change (or die a slow death)

The first time I saw an open concept office I wasn’t feeling it at all.  I see it as a breeding ground for germ-spreading and constant exposure to others even when you just prefer to work alone.  Unfortunately, this trend has really taken off in the world of IT.  And although I’m sure there are many who dislike this concept as much as I do the open concept office trend continues to spread with more companies jumping on board with it.  Even mid and upper level managers are sometimes seated in these “open, collaborative” areas.  Besides a concept that encourages collaboration amongst colleagues, the open concept office is also supposed to help build a stronger team and an atmosphere of inclusion and fairness as I’ve read in some articles and from my own experience.  It is also thought that this will encourage team members to work together more and, as a result, get more work done.  Think about it…if you’re sitting in an open concept office then you’re less likely to check your personal email, shop online, or take “work selfies” to post to your social media pages.  An open office environment likely makes you feel as if you’re always being watched.  So, of course, you’re going to get more work done since you have less time to goof off, right?  Not necessarily.  [tweetthis]There are a number of reasons why the open concept office doesn’t always equate to increased work productivity.[/tweetthis]  Here are a few I can think of from my own experience.

The feeling of constantly being watched/lack of privacy

So maybe one of the reasons many companies have adopted the open concept office is to make it easier for managers to keep a watchful eye on their team…just my theory and according to some studies this is true.  Your boss is able to see if you’re surfing the web or checking your Facebook page or constantly texting on your phone, which are things that may decrease work productivity.  But the flip side of this is that having the feeling of constantly being watched makes some feel like kids in a daycare.  Let’s be real…in many cases sending a few texts or checking Twitter a few times throughout the day will not take away much from work productivity when you actually have real work to do with real deadlines.  And who really wants to feel as if their trips to the restroom are being counted?  Or for the ladies what about when you need to get that pad or tampon out of your purse?  The feeling of constantly being watched can make it difficult to work well in this type of environment.

Increased chance of germs and illnesses spreading

Being the fitness freak and health buff I’ve become here’s one of my biggest gripes when it comes to the open concept office.  If in a typical cubicle office you’re sitting next to or across from someone who is coughing, hacking, and blowing their nose throughout the work day then that can be a cause for concern.  But it becomes even more of an issue when there are no walls to block those flying germs!  Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this first-hand where a guy sitting right across from me coughed at times without covering his mouth.  So, of course, I ended up getting sick.  Not sure if it was because of him or several of the other “human germ bugs” who were sitting around me constantly coughing and sneezing.  But it certainly created an uneasy, miserable environment for me and made it more difficult for me to concentrate on getting my work done.

Desk meetings and conference calls

Without cubicle walls, not only do germs travel more but so does noise.  So when your teammate has that hour-long conference call while you are heads-down trying to get some work done this can be a huge distraction.  And if your teammate has a voice that tends to carry then that’s even worse.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can find an unoccupied meeting room or sit in the cafeteria to get your work done instead.

Considering that today in the U.S. over 70% of employees work in an open office environment and tech giants such as Facebook and Google have either adopted or plan to adopt the concept, it doesn’t appear that this trend is slowing down anytime soon.  But there are some ways to make the experience of working at a company that follows the open concept office a bit more bearable.  And companies are showing that they are open to ideas on how to improve the experience for their employees.  Here are some things I’ve seen companies do:

  • Create “private spaces” and break areas: I’ve used these quite a bit myself. These “private spaces” may be small conference rooms
    Pic courtesy of http://www.arcis.com.  Break rooms, especially one with bright colors and large windows such as this one, can be a nice retreat away from your desk in an open office.

    Pic courtesy of http://www.arcis.com. Break rooms, especially one with bright colors and large windows such as this one, can be a nice retreat away from your desk in an open office.

    or upgraded break/cafeteria areas where workers who may want a little privacy or looking to get in a space where they can concentrate more can retreat to as needed.

  • Allow telecommuting: This is one of my faves 🙂  Who doesn’t like the flexibility to work from home?  You don’t have to deal with the headache of traffic or finding a nice business casual outfit to wear.  All you have to do is wake up and turn on your laptop.  From my experience with working from home I’ve actually gotten more work done and was even likely to work longer since I didn’t have to deal with traveling to and from the office.  To me when done effectively telecommuting is a win for the company and employees and can be a nice option to have when you need a break from the open office.
  • Allow use of moveable boards: Moveable boards can be a nice-to-have option in an open concept office environment since they provide at least a little privacy.  I’ve seen companies allow employees to surround their “open desk” area with two moveable boards.  They are also typically cheaper than cubicle walls.
  • Create a fun space with a “home-like” feel: If workers have to spend 8-9 hours in an open office then why not make it a more comfortable experience?  Instead of the typical office desks and
    Pic courtesy of http://www.conceptcupboard.com.

    Pic courtesy of http://www.conceptcupboard.com.

    chairs the use of furniture such as sofas and cushioned chairs or even standing desks can be a great way to help workers feel more comfortable with working in an open office and may even add a little fun to the atmosphere. 

The open concept office has its pros and cons…but from an employee’s perspective I think there are definitely more cons.  Thank goodness there are continuous studies and company surveys that provide insight into how employees feel about the open concept office and the impact it has on work productivity.  Based on the feedback from these studies hopefully we’ll get to see the current open concept office trend change soon for the better….or die a slow death 🙂



About Keke

I'm a wife, mother, IT career woman, MBA, fun, loving person who enjoys wearing multiple hats and living life to the fullest. I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO and have been working in the field of technology for over a decade, which I enjoy very much. Additionally, I'm passionate about fitness and eating well so I'm always researching related topics and enjoy sharing this information with others. My blog merges the things I'm passionate about by turning these topics into what I hope you find are interesting blog posts. So glad you stopped by and hope to see you back here soon!

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