Closed-Minded About Open Work Space: Is This Really What’s Best for the Workplace?

March 27, 2013  |  

“Open work spaces” are now all the rage for companies, especially in the technology world. At my company, it seemed like a direct threat on my personal space when it was announced that all buildings would soon be converted to an open work space. If you aren’t familiar with the term, just think of the rooms with rows of desks and computers that you’re seeing more often these days. Unlike the traditional cubical scene resembled by most companies, the open work space layout has very few walls, partitions, and most of all, lacks privacy.

Mike Tschudy, vice president of SAP’s cloud product design, believes this sort of work space is “designed to be open, flexible and transparent, facilitates inspired creativity and easy collaboration, as well as heads down work.” Without privacy employees will be forced to focus on work and not be distracted by online content or personal phone calls. This layout is also much cheaper for companies to build and capitalizes on floor space.

One of the drawbacks for employees who work in a “collaborative work space” is at some companies there are assigned seating arrangements, while at others employees may have a different seat each day, which makes it challenging to display those family photos and customize your space. But the biggest drawback to this new-yet-popular layout is the noise. After scientists surveyed more than 65,000 people, it was discovered that over half were dissatisfied with the level of “speech privacy” that leads to distractions throughout the day. Hearing people’s chatter can be counterproductive for employees and can impair their focus.

Some would argue that the benefits for this new floor plan outweigh the drawbacks. However, many like author Susan Cain are not convinced. Cain believes that “individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.”  And others of the same school of thought feel that extroverts benefit from this layout, while the 25 percent of introverts in the office will feel out of place.

I am an extrovert, but I certainly like having my own space and value my more closed office set up. I like to chat it up at the water cooler, scribble all over white boards in conference rooms with my colleagues, and round everyone up for lunch once in awhile. However at the end of the day when it’s time to get my work done, I like sit in the same chair every day. Furthermore, once I accidentally left $20 on my desk and the next day it was still there! I’d doubt that would ever have happened if I were in an open work space environment.

What do you think? Are you OK with an open work space at your office or would you prefer to have you own space — or maybe even a door  — to really keep the work trolls out?

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