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The Pros and Cons of an Open Workspace

Silicon Valley is well-known for its incredibly successful global tech companies. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have all revolutionized facility management styles with new solutions like the recent open-office trend. Facility managers around the globe take note of the management styles and trends coming out of Silicon Valley because of the apparent success of these businesses, and the open work space trend has quickly become the new normal.

The International Facility Management Association reported that by 2014 around 70 percent of American offices had low or no partitions to facilitate a more open work space. An open office creates both advantages and disadvantages in the work space. Facility managers should weigh their company’s goals and look at the evidence presented to decide if an open work space environment is a potential solution for their business. 


Benefits of an Open Work Space

The number one reason facility managers consider moving to an open work space is because it is much more cost-effective than private offices or cubicles. Shared workstations mean less overall financial investment into private desks, individual rooms, materials and other building costs. Additionally, facility managers consider strategic motives like improving social support, cooperation and communication between team members when considering an open work space.

Silicon Valley titans like Yahoo!, Facebook and eBay argue that an open office design facilitates fairness, transparency, productivity, communication and innovation. Communication between employees improves, and different team members will be more engaged with one another with an open work space design.

Research indicates a phenomenon called “culture collision” occurs when a chance encounter between workers boosts each employee’s creativity and sense of community. These culture collisions are proven to boost overall office productivity rates.

Without assigned offices and cubicles, an open work area is more flexible than traditional designs. More employees can operate in an open space, and the layout can be rearranged as needed. This allows for maximum space utilization. Another positive aspect of an open work space design is the eco-friendly energy implications.

Open offices are the green choice because the design reduces the strain on heating and cooling systems, gives more opportunities for broad daylight windows and involves less construction waste. Another important reason facility managers are opting for an open work space design because it is both aesthetically pleasing and trendy with the newer millennial generation. Business owners report that an open work space design leaves a positive impression on clients, whereas the traditional cubicle-style design is often seen as old-fashioned. 

Consequences of an Open Office

One of the most glaring disadvantages to having an open office design is the increase in noise level and distraction for employees. It has been repeatedly cited in many studies that simple noise impairs concentration and cognitive performance.

Matthew Davis, an organizational psychologist, reviewed over one hundred studies relating to office design to research the psychological effects on employees from an open office design. His published findings show that an open work space means an increase in uncontrolled disruptions, higher levels of stress, lowered concentration levels, lowered productivity and a decrease in worker satisfaction. 

Facility managers recognize that a sense of privacy boosts productivity, but an open office removes this aspect. An often-cited study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that around half of all open office workers were unhappy with the lack of sound privacy, and 40 percent complained about a lack of visual privacy.

Additionally, more open space leaves employees more vulnerable to contagious germs. One study comparing different office designs found that employees who worked in open offices took more time off due to illness . Another study published in the 2014 Journal of Ergonomics confirmed these results. 

Silicon Valley seems to have reinvigorated the open office movement, yet it may come as a surprise that open office designs were the norm back in the 1950s and 1960s. An open floor plan may be a good fit for some businesses, but it’s not a good option for every company.

Facility managers need to consider that every employee works differently, and the potential advantages and disadvantages to an open work space are highly dependent on various job functions and the company’s overall goals. While large tech companies like Google that rely on innovative ideas and collaboration greatly benefit from this open office design, facility managers should carefully consider their options before jumping on-board with the trend.

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