5 Disturbing Side Effects of Open Plan Offices

If you’re considering an open plan office, you’re probably already well aware of the benefits of switching to a less boxed-in office design. But before you count the money saved on office equipment and floor space, consider these ways that open office plans can hinder productivity (and what to do to offset the problems.)

1. Introverts Might Freak Out

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“Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in,” says Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” in an interview with the New York Times.

The problem, according to productivity strategists, is that introverts generally aren’t comfortable working out in the open. Which means that you might lose out on some great ideas from your quietest and most reflective thinkers.

Answer: Provide some private spaces for those who need them, whether it’s for a small meeting or some heads-down time on a project.

2. The Noise Might Drive You Crazy

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Even if everyone in the office is concentrating quietly on their work, open offices are just plain louder than cubicle layouts. The simple fact is that there aren’t any walls to buffer the sound. (And you thought those burlap cube walls at your first gig out of college were totally useless.)

Answer: Sound-masking equipment. Believe it or not, the answer to too much noise might be more noise — white noise, that is; the kind that blocks out the chair squeaks and idle chatter of big open offices.

3. Higher Stress Levels for Everyone

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Even if you’re a fairly extroverted person, having your co-workers right in your face all day long can be a pretty aggravating situation. In the long-term, this can lead to higher stress levels.

Answer: Earphones + courtesy = happy campers. Workers can build a little faux privacy by listening to their own soundtrack, and you can encourage people to be respectful of each other’s space and privacy.

4. More Conflict

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Remember that episode of “The Brady Bunch” where Marcia and Peter shared a room? Yeah, open offices can get that ugly, even without the ’70s print.

Answer: Make sure everyone has at least a little bit of space all his or her own, even if it’s just a locker. And we can’t stress enough how valuable those conference rooms will be. Give folks a space to escape to when they need to, and you’ll have a lot less squabbling.

5. You Might See Higher Turnover

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If you don’t plan ahead to offset some of these downsides to the open office plan, you might find yourself having to hire new folks a lot more often than you’d like. A 2008 Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management report cited in Scientific American (and quoted here) found that open work environments increased employee turnover, as well as promoting high blood pressure.

Answer: Do the work ahead of time, and you’ll reap all of the benefits of an open plan office, without having to suffer.

Images: zadeus/Flickr, Phillie Casablanca/Flickr, Ha-Wee/Flickr, trawin/Flickr, Karen Eliot/Flickr

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