As the fictional Peter Gibbons from the 1999 sleeper hit Office Space said: “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”
While perhaps ahead of its time and hilariously relatable to many office dwellers, Peter Gibbons was not the first to bring this idea to light. In fact, the open office floor plan originated in the 1950’s by German design group, Quickborner, as a means to increase communication within organisations.
Was it successful? Depends who you ask. This concept has been praised for its sense of togetherness, criticized for creating chaos and acknowledged for making sense in particular industries.
And yet, the trend continues to grow. In fact, recent studies show that 70% of U.S. offices have an open floor plan. Below is a look at the pros and cons to help prospective employees decide whether it’s the right environment.
They eliminate corporate hierarchy
Creating an environment in which, say, a VP is seated amongst the rest of employees eliminates the sense of hierarchy. In turn, this leads to employees viewing upper management as more approachable.
They allow for flexibility
Many open or flexible office plans allow for employees to work where they are most comfortable. If rotating seats each day makes you feel that you are breaking the monotonous routine, it could perhaps lead to happier employees.
They create a sense of camaraderie
Rather than being holed up in a cubicle 40 hours per week, seeing fellow employees around the office boosts morale and creates a sense of communal cause, or working toward the same goal.
They reduce overhead cost
Though not a direct benefit for the employee, the fewer the walls the lower the cost for equipment and office space. In other words, no space goes unused.
The bad and the ugly:
They decrease productivity
Without walls, there is no buffer between conversation, work-related or not. This constant buzz creates over-stimulation, which in turn leads to a stressful, unproductive environment.
They decrease privacy
With an open plan comes lack of privacy. So, when John Smith is making a sales call to a client, rest assured you’ll hear the entire conversation whether you want to or not. Consequently, this constant noise may result in employees wearing headphones to drone out the chatter.
They are an introvert’s nightmare
Each job task requires different strengths and personalities. For an extrovert who may thrive in a lively environment, the open office plan perpetuates collaborative conversation from other employees. For an introvert, an office without cubicles may over-stimulate the senses, leading to distractions and longer time to complete projects. A simple task such as hopping on the phone may no longer be so simple if you know the rest of your colleagues can hear your every word.
They may actually demotivate employees
Whilst the original intention was to solve issues of increasing motivation and morale in the workplace, it may actually perpetuate the very problem this aimed to solve. With constant hubbub around the workplace, it’s easy to derail from an assigned task. A recent study shows 58% of high performing employees need private spaces for problem solving.
Be as observant as possible when interviewing for a job. If you’re able to walk around the office, take note of the environment and ask questions to ultimately help you make the right decision. After all, the interview is just as much yours as it is the employer’s.
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