For anyone who’s ever had to stand up and peer over a cubicle wall just to see the clock or tried to retain some measure of self respect while crammed into into a working space the size of a hamster cage, the idea of switching over to an open office can seem pretty enticing. Unfortunately, much like witch’s cottage in Hansel and Gretel, the sweet exterior of the dream of the open office belies the terrifying reality that awaits inside. What could that cryptic sentence possibly mean? Well, let’s take a moment and find out together. Here are three reasons why an open office could mean death for your company’s productivity.
1. Loss of personal space
Say what you will about working out of a hamster cage, at least it’s a well defined personal space. Those who enter the cage can say with finality that yes, this is my cage; In here, I am the master. This may not seem like much, but it is an important part of productivity. Much like the hamsters for which those cages were intended (I’m sorry, but I’m having too much fun with the whole hamster analogy to just let it go), office workers like to have a quiet, out-of-the-way corner into which they can scurry when they need to get important work done. Each employee has their own preferences when it come to the right office desk for them, the right neighbors, and the right space. Open offices mean lack of privacy, which invariably translates into reduced productivity and less hamster-I mean employee-satisfaction.
2. Increased noise levels
Have you ever tried to remember a phone number while someone was listing off random digits into your ear? If so, then you must have grown up with siblings, and you know just how hard it can be to concentrate when audio distractions are present. Well, the thing that makes an open office open is its lack of walls or dividers, which means that every hilarious-sounding sneeze, every nervous tap-tap-tap of a pencil, every inane conversation about whatever hit HBO show just happened to cross a line last night, or even a nerf dart to the back of the head, gets to drift out across the work spaces and take its toll on your productivity. Add to that the constant ambient noise from various office machines, telephones, and the invariably god-awful music that always seems to be playing in the background, and you have a recipe for not getting a whole lot done.
Humans are basically pack animals (much like hamsters!), which means that yes, we can generally function well enough in groups when we have to. However, it also means that when one of the pack gets sick, the rest of the pack is likely to follow unless measures are taken to quarantine the unwell individual. In a closed office, this problem can be minimized, assuming that the sick worker simply stays in his corner and keeps to himself, but how possible is that in an open office? Open office space furniture is designed to promote interaction, and the lack of walls or dividers will go a long way towards spreading that virus to a dozen new hosts. As a result, open office setups result in 62% more sick days being used than the more individual layouts.
So yes, the open office may seem like a great way to mix things up at work, but be warned: it’s not everything it seems to be. If you value productivity, you’ll stick with more closed-off set ups. Hey, hamster cages aren’t sounding so bad anymore, are they?