By now, everyone has heard of the open environment office trend. Companies are trading the traditional floor plan of private offices and cubicles  for open floor-plans with bench seating options and hoteling concepts. Today, over 70 % of American employees work in an open-concept office environment. However, in doing research for this blog post, these are some of headlines that came up upon Googling “when open concept doesn’t work:”

  • The Open-Office Trap
  • Why The Open-Concept Office Trend Needs to Die
  • Employees Yearn for Return to Cubical Amid Open Office Woes


So what is the rub? Why is the large majority of the workforce in open-office environments if it seemingly does not work for the large majority of employees?


The Justification:

The upswing in the trend of the open-office concept is largely driven by Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook (who attempted to fit 2800 engineers in a single room). The rest of the country saw this new innovative trend that fostered collaboration, community and camaraderie and followed suit. Many employers feel that the open-office concept is a symbol of the company’s mission or culture. Practically speaking, open office concepts are typically more cost effective. Traditional offices are costlier in terms of design, materials and space.


The *Reported* Reality:

The reality behind the seemingly ideal open work setting that fosters teamwork and community is that many employees are frustrated. In many cases, tearing down the walls increases noise, but not noise coming from colleagues sharing ideas and working together. Many studies show that employees are distracted with a lack of sound and visual privacy. It is a unique personality that can filter out the noise and distraction experienced in some open-office environments. Introverts can feel overwhelmed and stifled by the lack of privacy, while multi-taskers can become over-stimulated and easily sidetracked. Studies are showing that productivity and employee satisfaction is down in many open-office environments and sick days are up.


The Solution:

Larry Nevins, Harper Collins Executive Vice President of Operations put it simply: “We looked at doing that big open space and piling everyone in, but that didn’t’ fit our culture.” This is a very astute observation: open concept did not fit the culture of the publishing house and therefore would have led to employee dissatisfaction. The right solution lies within the culture of the company. What that often means is offering a variety of work environments within an office space. Phone rooms, huddle rooms, meeting rooms and various breakout environments are now being sought after, in order to give employees an assortment of working environments to choose from, depending on the department, or task. Creating a dynamic space that fosters culture, community and collaboration can be achieved when you look at your organization as many different parts striving to make up a very productive whole.

Katie Craven
Katie Craven is Marketing, Communication and Brand Manager at Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers, a real-estate consulting firm that provides owner’s representation and project management services. More about Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers as well as additional blog posts can be found here.
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