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Open Office Spaces; Do They Help or Hurt Productivity

Collaboration Nation: Benefits and Drawbacks of Open Office Spaces

How many offices have you worked in? If you’ve worked in more than one place, it’s likely that you’ve been exposed to an open office. Starting in the 1970s, these office types—usually with short or no walls—started to take hold, and now up to 70 percent of American workers spend their workday hours in one.

The reasons for the popularity of the open office concept are multi-fold, but collaboration is the biggest promise that drives the adoption of an open office space plan. The concept also provides greater opportunities for learning and socializing. Many people in company leadership like them, too—they bring light to more people and they tend to be less expensive, typically costing less per square foot per employee.

But open offices don’t have universal appeal. Some employees like their personal space, privacy, and feel like the lack of enclosure distracts from productivity—inviting frequent interruptions and creating too much noise.

So what’s to like—and to not like—about open offices? This graphic works through some of the pros and cons to consider in open offices.

Pros and Cons of the Open Office Concept

Benefits & drawbacks of open office spaces
Infographic by Quill


Some Strategies

To mitigate some of the potential negatives to the open work space concept, consider the following strategies to keep your productivity high:

  1. Indicate to others that you are or are not available for collaboration. This might mean wearing headphones when you are needing to concentrate, putting some sort of sign on the back of your chair (think “red light or green light”), or setting a visible timer on your desk that shows the amount of time remaining in a “focused work” session.
  2. Talk with your team about best practices for collaboration versus focused, uninterrupted work. Decide on some standards and the culture you want to have related to the open work environment as a team.
  3. Take advantage of private, quiet work spaces when you really need to focus. Reserve a conference room, consider working for part of the day from home, or speak with a manager about their ideas for “escaping” into a quiet work space for a bit of time.

Your Turn

Do you work in an open work space environment? How do you feel it impacts your productivity? Do you save time by collaborating easily and often with your colleagues? Do you lose time as a result of increased interruption, noise or distraction? What kind of strategies have you put into practice to minimize any negative impact of the open office concept? We’d love to hear from you.


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