Open Vs. Private Work Spaces

Open workspaces are becoming more popular, especially in high technology industries. Robert Half published an article, “Open Debate: Many Companies Move Toward Open Vs. Private Workspaces” that summarizes the pros and cons of each set up. The majority (56 percent) of human resources managers whose companies have changed their workspaces in recent years said their companies moved to an open floor plan to enhance collaboration.

But, does the open plan really enhance collaboration? It does not based on the survey results that found the following, “Employees who work in open floor plans and semi-private cubicles cited the lowest productivity levels due to their workspace. Workers with private offices cited the highest levels of productivity.”

After recently moving locations at a company and being involved in this same debate, I can tell you that people are very passionate about their opinions on what is the best working environment. There was a push toward eliminating all offices and moving everyone to an open space. After much backlash, leadership decided on a mix of private offices and semi-private cubicles. This was a change from most employees having very private cubicles with high walls.

Employees were not happy. I am in the group that works best in a quiet environment where I can focus. Noises, phones ringing, people talking, etc. are highly disruptive to me and I can’t concentrate without complete silence. I have no problem walking over to a co-worker’s cubicle if I have a question or need to collaborate; I don’t need to stare at them all day!

Another concern is that most companies do not have nearly enough small meeting rooms or conference rooms available for private conversations. In my opinion, this also negatively affects collaboration because if no space is available, that needed private collaboration just doesn’t happen.

Even if an organization does decide to move to a completely open space, HR should always have a private office. I’ve been fortunate to have an office most of my career with the exception of a contract job. It was obvious that people were not comfortable visiting me with concerns or questions since my cubicle was located in the middle of an open office. Do we expect employees to bring a serious complaint or allegation to HR in front of everyone? People gossip, and we need to create a safe space for employees, preferably in a more remote and private location in the building.

Which office environment works best for you?