Strategic HR

Growing Trend for Open Workspaces Increases, but Not Everyone Is on Board

Wide open spaces aren’t all they’re cracked up to be in the office, a new survey of workers shows. Employees polled by staffing firm Robert Half said open floor plans are among the least productive and most stressful work environments. Yet they are becoming more popular.open workspace

The majority (56 %) of Human Resources (HR) managers whose companies have changed their workspaces in recent years said their companies moved to an open floor plan to enhance collaboration.

“Office design should not be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director for Robert Half—in a press release. “Companies considering a change should create a layout that brings out their team’s best performance. Frequently, the optimal office setup includes a mix of private workspaces and meeting areas for collaboration.”

Additional findings from the surveys:

  • While 65% of workers surveyed conceded that open floor plans help with collaboration, they also said that other office configurations, including private offices (60%), semiprivate cubicles (68%), and a combination of open and private spaces (69%) can be collaborative.
  • Employees who work in open floor plans and semiprivate cubicles cited the lowest productivity levels due to their workspace. Workers with private offices cited the highest levels of productivity.
  • One-third of professionals working in private cubicles said their workspace configuration hinders collaboration.
  • Fifty-nine percent of those with private offices said their workspace makes them feel relaxed. Those working in semiprivate cubicles and open floor plans reported the most amount of stress (31% and 25% respectively) due to their workspace configuration.

Added McDonald, “It’s not practical for every employee to have a private or even semi-private office, but employers should pay attention to the overall workplace design to ensure there are both collaboration spaces and places for employees to quietly get work done. An attractive office setting could be a deciding factor for a candidate during the hiring process.”

Robert Half identifies pros and cons of different workspace configurations to help managers decide what’s right for their office:

Private Offices

Pros: Employees and management can make business and personal phone calls, hold meetings, or have private conversations without being seen or heard by other staff members.
Cons: They’re expensive and require more space to implement. Workers who close their doors can seem unapproachable.

Private Cubicles

Pros: They provide some privacy.
Cons: Outside discussions can be distracting, and employees worried about disrupting others might avoid conversations, prohibiting collaboration.

Semiprivate Cubicles

Pros: Professionals can see each other, making it easier to have spontaneous conversations. This option offers an open floor plan feel, but also allows workers to feel ownership of their space.
Cons: Impromptu conversations can be disruptive to nearby workers trying to focus.

Open Floor Plan

Pros: This option saves on overhead costs, and is best for roles, departments, or industries that require a high level of collaboration.
Cons: It’s not ideal for introverted personalities or those who require a quiet space for concentration. It also lacks private spaces for confidential discussions.

Combination of Private and Open Spaces

Pros: It isn’t as disruptive as other types of configurations, and allows for employees to gather in common areas.
Cons: It’s more expensive to implement and can take more time to design this type of space.

About the Research

The surveys were developed by Robert Half and conducted by independent research firms. The HR managers’ survey includes responses from more than 300 HR managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. The survey of workers includes responses from more than 1,000 U.S. professionals age 18 and over and employed in office environments.

  • Management is often swayed by lower rent, i.e., cost savings, with little or no consideration for lost productivity.