The idea of the open plan office began in the mid-1950s as a way to increase communication and the flow of ideas. The following years saw slightly different versions come and go until the current version began in the 1990s.

The original arguments about an enhanced sense of community, ease of communication, and increased creativity resurfaced. Before workers knew what was happening, office walls came crashing down.

Approximately 25 years later as leaders you have to ask yourselves; do the pros of an open plan office outweigh the cons? How is productivity, employees, and your bottom line affected?

What are the pros?

Compared to traditional walled offices the open concept is much cheaper and more flexible. If the number of employees changes rapidly, you can easily adjust the space.

Proponents of open plan office tout one of the main benefits as the ability to bring employees together. Everyone working in the same space creates a sense of team spirit and employees can communicate and collaborate much easier.

The sense of community helps employees avoid the feelings of claustrophobia experienced when you work in a single office with no immediate feedback from anyone.

What are the cons?

As an owner or manager looking to get the most out of your employees, you need to consider the most recent information about open office plans. Several studies by respected experts show that even with the benefits open concepts provide they have a negative side that hurts productivity.

One study conducted in 2011 by an organisational phycologist found that creative thinking, job satisfaction, and attention spans all suffered in open office plans. Workers also were bothered by constant distractions.

What this means for your productivity is that every distraction causes workers to pause and refocus. You now have an office where workers have higher levels of stress, decreased concentration, and less motivation.

Now all these things are counterproductive, but with all your workers in one big room the biggest victim may be their health. One study in Denmark found that the rate of sick outs rose according to the number of workers in the room. Compared to single person offices workers in an open concept environment called out approximately 60% more often.

Possibly the most important issue you should consider concerning productivity is the simplest; noise. Somehow constant noise affects your worker’s ability to think. Studies repeatedly show evidence that cognitive performance diminishes because of noise.


The research seems abundantly clear. The negatives outweigh the positives for open office environments, but the positives do have value. Younger workers especially seem more comfortable with this type of arrangement, and face it, younger workers are the future. So what should you do? 

Companies create a workspace that provides the benefits of both open and private work areas. Many companies are acknowledging that privacy is necessary so workers can better absorb and process information. According to people who design office spaces, the trend is adding areas where workers can find some quiet private space.

One office design included a library with all the normal amenities a library offers, including an unspoken rule about not speaking. You can find tons of information about this trend and tons of ideas of how to do it. You can have the best of both office environments, improve the experience for your workers, and increase productivity. Seems like a situation where everyone wins.


Written by David Fastuca @Locomote 


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