Open plan office spaces are gaining in popularity. Some estimates put the number of companies opting for cubicle-free workspace as high as 70 percent. But are open offices good for workers? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
1. Open offices promotes teamwork. Open offices allow workers in creative fields to collaborate more easily. The absence of walls and presence of more shared space encourages people to share ideas.
2. They’re more fun. A visitor to software company Atomic Object’s open plan offices described them as “having more in common with a grad school laboratory than an IT department.” With American workers spending more and more of their time at work, either in person or virtually, why not create an environment that makes work more like play?
3. They’re cheaper. You don’t need to be a budget specialist to do the math on this one. Fewer cubicles and other assorted items of office furniture equals less expenditure on equipment. Plus, open offices are more scalable: you can fit more people at a long table, for example, than at a single desk.
1. Scalable does not equal infinite. Open offices might be more flexible, but there are a finite number of people you can fit at that long table we mentioned above. Cram too many folks in too small a space, and you’ll see a sharp drop both in morale and productivity.
2. Open offices can be stressful. “People who are seated closely together in an open-plan work environment may suffer from physiological or psychological reactions such as stress, fatigue and increased blood pressure levels,” said Vinesh Oommen, a senior project officer for the Queensland University of Technology. This phenomenon is known, awesomely, as “sardine rage” by some experts. (We always thought sardines seemed mad.)
3. Close quarters can actually make you sick. Those cubicle walls served a purpose besides giving you a place to hang your vacation photos: they might have prevented your neighbor from sneezing in your face. Bring the walls down, and you’re creating a completely open pool of potential germs. Something to think about when flu season rolls round again.