The Pros & Cons of an Open-Concept Office
After years of standard cubicles, open-concept offices are making a comeback. These open offices tout collaboration and cost cutting, and many newly constructed offices are utilizing this layout. But just because it is popular, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
March 27, 2017 |
By: Aaron S.
Aaron joined Acuity in 2017 as our Retail Specialist—bringing with him almost 30 years of experience in a broad range of retail. He started his career stocking shelves in the seasonal department at a local retailer. A few years later, Aaron transitioned to a gas station/convenience store, where he worked second shift while getting his degree in organizational communications from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It was during this time he made the move to the loss prevention and safety aspect of retail. Over the next 25 years, he worked in various retail segments, including video games, cosmetics/skincare, hardware/appliances, pharmacy/grocery, and clothing. Aaron held several positions during this time, including District Loss Prevention Manager, Regional Loss Prevention Manager, Regional Compliance Auditor, and National Manager of Loss Prevention and Operations. Outside work, Aaron likes to spend time with his wife (who has also worked in retail for over 20 years) and their twin teenage boys. They enjoy being outdoors on the water, fishing, and camping. As the Retail Specialist, Aaron’s goal is to enhance the partnership between retailers and Acuity by showing retailers that an insurance company can be a supportive resource and that Acuity truly understands their industry.


Let’s go over some history of how cube land started. The cubicle, which first appeared in 1964, was created to combat a hectic workplace resounding with clattering typewriters and ringing phones. Designed by Robert Propst, a designer for Herman Miller, the cubicle featured a large desk, an area to make phone calls, and vertical filing with partitions to enhance privacy. The first cubicles were also equipped to allow the worker to either stand or sit.

 

However, the original design was too expensive and large to gain popularity. As a result, Herman Miller designed a cheaper cubicle that was easier to install and allowed only for seated work. It was this box-like design that became very popular in the 80s and 90s (sort of like your local greatest hits radio station).

 

Fast forward to today—70% of United States offices have traded in their cubicles for an open-concept office design. One such example is The Richards Group, an advertising agency in Dallas. When the company moved into its new office, they traded cubicles for bench-style workstations that are separated only by 18-inch high partitions. It’s the same setup on each floor, and an open staircase connects floors. While conference rooms are available, the only employee with an enclosed office is the CFO.

 

But is an open-concept office right for your business? Here are some benefits and drawbacks to consider if you’re thinking about making the switch:

 

Benefits:

  • Enhances Camaraderie. Shorter (if any) partitions reduce the need to go to another coworker’s space to chat, increasing the likelihood that employees will interact to build friendships and engage in teamwork.
  • Increases Information Sharing & Innovation. By taking down barriers, information flows more freely between employees and supervisors. Brainstorming and idea sharing can also be accomplished without having to schedule a meeting when there is open space around employees.
  • Cuts Costs. Building fewer walls cuts down on construction, utility, and material costs. Bench workstations are also less expensive than traditional cubicles.
  • Promotes equality. When employees and supervisors share the same open air, everyone feels like they are on the same playing field. Furthermore, the lack of barriers allows everyone to hear discussions, adding an element of transparency.

 

Drawbacks:

  • Decreases Concentration. Cubicles absorb sound and decrease visual distractions. When these walls come down, the office noise level and visual distractions increase. A University of Sydney study conducted in 2013 found that about 50% of people in open-concept offices and 60% of people in low-walled cubicles are not satisfied with their sound privacy.
  • Spreads Illness. Without much separation between coworkers, germs spread more easily. A 2011 Danish study of about 2,500 employees found that those in an open-concept office had 62% more sick days than those in traditional cubicles.
  • Reduces Productivity. The above factors combined also lead to a decrease in productivity.

 

With drawbacks linked to reduced productivity, concentration, and health, why has the open-concept office become so popular? A 2015 Oxford Economics survey sheds some light on the subject.

 

This study, which surveyed over 600 non-executives and over 600 executives, found noticeable differences between the viewpoints of executives and employees. While only 35% of executives believed that ambient noise reduced their employees’ satisfaction and productivity, 53% of employees said that it did. A whopping 63% of executives said their employees had the tools needed to filter out distractions at work, while only 41% of employees agreed. Furthermore, only 18% of employees believed their senior management took successful steps to reduce noise issues.

 

What is the reason for these differences? One contributing factor could be that executives live in a different world— 62% of executives have their own private office, in comparison to only 14% of employees. Another reason is that executives said minimizing distractions was low on the list of priorities when designing their office spaces.

 

How would an open concept impact your office? If you have an open concept, do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

By: Aaron S.
Aaron joined Acuity in 2017 as our Retail Specialist—bringing with him almost 30 years of experience in a broad range of retail. He started his career stocking shelves in the seasonal department at a local retailer. A few years later, Aaron transitioned to a gas station/convenience store, where he worked second shift while getting his degree in organizational communications from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It was during this time he made the move to the loss prevention and safety aspect of retail. Over the next 25 years, he worked in various retail segments, including video games, cosmetics/skincare, hardware/appliances, pharmacy/grocery, and clothing. Aaron held several positions during this time, including District Loss Prevention Manager, Regional Loss Prevention Manager, Regional Compliance Auditor, and National Manager of Loss Prevention and Operations. Outside work, Aaron likes to spend time with his wife (who has also worked in retail for over 20 years) and their twin teenage boys. They enjoy being outdoors on the water, fishing, and camping. As the Retail Specialist, Aaron’s goal is to enhance the partnership between retailers and Acuity by showing retailers that an insurance company can be a supportive resource and that Acuity truly understands their industry.