There’s a growing backlash against the open-plan office layout. This approach was intended to promote collaboration and teaming, but employees have long complained about noise, lack of privacy and constant distractions. Some experts now blame the open office environment for lower employee productivity, rising stress levels, decreased job satisfaction and reduced motivation.[1]

Cost was a major driver when many companies made the change to open offices, and cost-cutting during the Great Recession reinforced the attractiveness of open plan layouts. Indeed, open offices price out at nearly 50% less than traditional office layouts.[2]

Many of today’s open office layouts feature “benching” or “hoteling,” where employees set up and work at any available workstation, or “desking,” where an employee gets a small assigned workspace in a large open room.[3]

Despite the popularity of the open office concept among employers, workers cite the inability to focus due to distractions and a general discontent with their work environment in such settings. Researchers have found that employees in open-plan layouts tend to take more sick days due to increased exposure to germs and environmental stress.[4]

While the open-plan office is likely here to stay, many companies are listening to their employees’ concerns and making changes to improve working conditions. They are creating hybrid offices that include a range of spaces for various functions. New design features include “phone booths” that can be reserved for business or personal calls, “huddle” rooms that can accommodate small meetings of two or three people, soundproof rooms for projects requiring quiet and concentration, and quiet zones that reduce ambient noise.[5]

Employers are also allowing workers to be more autonomous in deciding where to work, either at their workstations, at an alternative workplace, or at home. For open-plan layouts, many companies are footing the bill for noise-cancelling headphones. Many of these steps go far to make the open-plan office a more positive and productive environment for employees.

[1] “Open-Plan Offices Are the Worst,” by L.V. Anderson, Slate, May 11, 2016. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_ladder/2016/05/open_plan_offices_add_distractions_and_hurt_productivity.html and “Why Your Open Office Workspace Doesn’t Work,” by David Burkus, Forbes, June 21, 2016. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidburkus/2016/06/21/why-your-open-office-workspace-doesnt-work/#4956c2a16d03

[2] “Open Offices Are Losing Some of Their Openness,” by Alina Dizik, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2, 2016. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/open-offices-are-losing-some-of-their-openness-1475460662

[3] “Open Offices Are Losing Some of Their Openness,” by Alina Dizik, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2, 2016. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/open-offices-are-losing-some-of-their-openness-1475460662

[4] “Why Your Open Office Workspace Doesn’t Work,” by David Burkus, Forbes, June 21, 2016. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidburkus/2016/06/21/why-your-open-office-workspace-doesnt-work/#4956c2a16d03

[5] “Open Offices Are Losing Some of Their Openness,” by Alina Dizik, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 2, 2016. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/open-offices-are-losing-some-of-their-openness-1475460662

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