Are Open Plan Offices Destroying Your Business?

For years we’ve all been told open plan offices are the way to go – ‘they will lead to more collaboration and productivity’ and ‘it will encourage better ideas and focus within a workforce’. Sounds amazing! You can get all that from your workforce by simply tearing down some walls and removing cubicles? Great! Pass the sledge hammer.

And that’s exactly what the majority of businesses have done. But is it actually working?

Does Open Plan Working Actually Work?

Consider this; what about that person who hums whilst they work, talks loudly on the phone or the worst of all eats an egg sandwich al desko every day? Day in, day out, it gets annoying!

Whilst these might be considered small irritations, it has been shown that open space working can have a detrimental effect on workers. Their attention spans suffer, creative thinking is reduced and job satisfaction is lacking. When Matthew Davis, organisational psychologist, reviewed over 100 studies of office environments he found employees working in open plan offices had lower concentration and higher stress levels than those working in traditional, standard layouts.

Creativity and productivity

The myths around open plan offices promised that they would increase collaboration and innovation between employees but research has shown it may have the opposite effect.

In 2018, The Harvard Business School researchers carried out a first of its kind study to analyse how the change to open workspace effected staff collaboration. The study showed that open plan offices actually reduced face to face interactions by about 70 percent, yet electronic communication, whether it be emails or instant messaging, increased significantly. When placed in an open plan workspace, most people seemed to shy away from actually talking to their co-workers and became withdrawn, preferring to email their neighbour rather than have a conversation.

One reason for this could be that being in an open plan office means an employee is constantly working with an audience. The fear of embarrassing yourself in front of your co-workers or asking a ‘silly question’ which is overheard has left employees less inclined to collaborate in those situations, but instead to shy away.


Another classic about open plan offices…. they make employees happier. Really?! By taking down the dividing walls between desks you remove an employees’ privacy. More and more studies have shown that workers can feel overexposed in that kind of environment. Lack of privacy and constantly dealing with excess noise can have a detrimental effect on an employees’ physical health and well-being.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of employees working in open plan offices had high levels of stress and high blood pressure, and in a study of 2400 people working in a fully open plan office, it showed they took 62 percent more sick days than those positioned in single-person offices.

What can we do?

It’s understood that some businesses do thrive with an open plan workspace, and that’s great. If it works for you – keep doing it! But for those who are finding that something just isn’t quite right with your workforce, take a look at your workspace layout.

We’re not suggesting you go round building walls between every employee or bringing back corner offices (Mad Men-style), but maybe there is a middle ground.

One configuration that works for Pixar is to place groups of five to six workers in adjacent offices with a collaboration space in the middle. This gives your employees the privacy they need to work productively but a space where they can bring ideas together in a safe space.

If you don’t have the space to do that however, consider creating spaces around the office that can be used by your employees for private/quiet working. Give them space, in a low-traffic area, where they can retreat to when they need space to concentrate without distractions. Open plan doesn’t have to mean completely open, and a few closed areas might be just what you need to remove the challenges faced by open plan working.

If you need inspiration, like with anything, look to Google. Yes they were the original trend setter for open plan working, when they renovated their headquarters in California in 2005, but since then they have evolved in their layout to better take into consideration their employees’ well-being. Moving away from a completely open plan layout, Google uses common areas, furniture and walls (yes walls) to create intimate spaces whilst keeping an open plan feel to their working area.

It’s time to make a change, and look at your workspace layout, is it working for you, your employees and your business? It’s time to consider how your workspace can give your employees a sense of privacy to help improve their job satisfaction which in turn will increase productivity.

Why not let us take a look at your workspace and create a working environment that works for everyone.