The debate continues: 5 reasons why an open office space may not be a good idea

Recent figures have shown that almost 70% of office space in the US is now open plan, consisting of low partitions or even no partitions or walls at all. However, not everyone agrees that the open plan formula is an effective one. Before you adopt this layout in your office, here are 5 potential drawbacks of open office space for you to consider:

1. No control over office environment

When an employee spends a huge amount of the day sat at a desk, one of the major aspects of making themselves feel comfortable is the ability to have a certain amount of control over their environment.

The open office plan unfortunately takes that option away from them, and if they are feeling too cold or too hot, they are unable to change this to any degree of success without affecting everyone else in the office.

The lighting in an office is also important to each employee, and if the open plan office space is too bright or too dim for that particular individual, they are unable to do anything about it and have to accept it along with the rest of the employees.

It is impossible to keep everyone happy in an open plan office space!

2. Difficult to concentrate

An open plan office makes it difficult to concentrate, with employees coming and going all the time. This is especially true if there are a lot of people working quite close to each other. At some point during the day, an employee will want to take a bathroom break or get a coffee. This constant movement in the eye line makes for a very distracting working day.

There are also many other distractions throughout the day, like the smell of food wafting over from someone’s desk, or conversations with other employees. With very little or no partitions or segregation from this noise, studies have shown that constant small distractions throughout the day have a massive negative impact on productivity, as well as an increase in stress levels.

3. A lack of privacy

Although as a manager or business owner it may be great to see what everyone is up to at their desks, some employees may not like it. It doesn’t matter how hard working and productive an employee is as they may still find it a distraction when the rest of the office can see what they are up to.

Trust and privacy not only allows some employees to work better, but to also feel more comfortable at their desks knowing they have the freedom to work without anyone else potentially judging what they are doing on a constant basis.

4. An increase in sick days

A study was conducted of over 2,000 Danish workers, and the research showed that the number of sick days was higher for an open plan office. The employees in the open plan office had 62% more sick days when compared with a regular office.

When a whole team sits together without any partitions, a single sneeze could easily transfer a nasty cold around the office. It is much harder to avoid germs and illnesses when everyone sits together.

An office with a large number of employees taking sick days can dramatically impact a business. Not only with a decrease in productivity, but a negative impact on the morale levels too.

5. Personal space

Most people prefer to have their own personal space, and this doesn’t just apply to home life but also to the workplace.

Many an hour is spent at work, and if you are apart of a team that all sit at the same large desk, it can become quite difficult to find the time to have some personal space. This could be just to think about a certain project, or to perform a task in peace without any distractions.

Employees also like to personalise their own desk with pictures or particular systems that they like to use, like office trays for mail. Sometimes this may be difficult when on a shared desk, as there isn’t always a defined space for each person.

Better communication and sharing of ideas can be one of the benefits to an open plan office, but in many cases it can also have the opposite effect. Conversations can easily be heard by other employees which has an impact on the focus of the team.

It also might make it more difficult for some employees to share ideas, as they may be nervous about sharing them in front of other people. Sometimes some of the best ideas are never shared because of the fear of rejection, and other team members shooting them down.

However, if an employee was able to confide in a colleague without the worry of what other people might think, then partitions or office doors may be welcomed.


An open office clearly has its drawbacks, and in many cases what was thought to be an improvement on the traditional office space, may actually be just creating different problems.

What may be a possible solution is assessing each department, team and individual, to see how they feel. An office space which attempts to consider everyone may just be what’s needed in order to get the best out of the team, whilst keeping morale high.

Depending on your business and the individual roles, some departments may benefit from desks with partitions. For example, a call centre which constantly takes and makes calls would require each team member to have their own personal space with a partition. This would prevent too much noise from each call travelling around the office, and shouldn’t disturb or distract other employees or departments.

So the perfect office space layout may require some very careful thinking, in an attempt to steal ideas from many different concepts, and adapt them to each department to make them efficient as possible.

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