In Defense of Open Workspaces

Open Office

Thanks to a study published by Harvard researchers this past July, open offices are again a hot topic. Writers already discussed these workspace plans all the time, but the research results added even more fuel to the fire. So, what did the study say that caused so much controversy? It found that open offices decreased face-to-face interaction instead of improving it. Enter the hot takes on both sides.

What impact does this conversation have on your decisions as a workspace owner? It turns out that this issue is more nuanced than “why open offices are good” vs. “why open offices are bad.”

We’re here to set the record straight.

The Benefits of an Open Office Design

Let’s start with the reasons why people advocate for open workspaces. Open office plan advantages include:

  • Affordability: When you have a tight budget, an open office costs less than a traditional cubicle farm. You can rent just about any large space and convert it to an open plan.
  • Morale: Working out of a cubicle or personal office can get drab and lonely. An open office lets your employees see their coworkers instead of a gray wall.
  • Collaboration: If your work involves a lot of idea sharing, having everyone in the same space makes it easier to complete projects together.

Common Criticisms of Open Offices

However, not everyone enjoys this workspace concept. They cite reasons like lack of privacy, distractions and bad employee behavior. With the release of the Harvard study, these critics feel vindicated. But many would argue that these issues don’t have a direct link to the area plan itself. The study doesn’t necessarily prove this connection, either.

When you read any study, you need to understand it in the context of the entire field. The Harvard research was the very first to look at face-to-face interaction in an open office. That means that you have no other data on the subject. While the authors put a lot of work into their research design, no study can prove anything on its own. In other words, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet.

Make the Pros of Open Office Environments Outweigh the Cons

The critics of open offices have valid concerns, but you can’t link them to the spaces themselves. In fact, many of their reasons have to do with the employees and employer. Think about it — the employer is responsible for creating a comfortable space. Nobody enjoys getting crowded together, whether they work in a cubicle or an open office. And the employees themselves are accountable for their behavior. A conscientious employer will balance privacy and openness and discipline harassment.

In other words, the problem isn’t the plan — it’s the workplace. If you add separate private spaces like SnapCab® Pods, your employees can escape to a quiet place. Following a no-tolerance harassment policy can protect employees from bad eggs. Design your open space well, and you’ll reap the benefits. You don’t have to do it alone, either. Book a free design session with us, and we’ll help you create a productive open office.