How do open plan offices impact employees?

How do open plan offices impact employees?

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Open plan offices are generally considered more aesthetically pleasing than traditional office spaces. An open plan office space also allows visiting clients to see everyone working together in the same space, which can be beneficial. However, employers should consider that open plan offices can actually have a detrimental effect on employees. According to research, workers in open plan offices have been underperforming at work compared to those who work in more traditional spaces. So, what is the reason for this and what can businesses and employers do to tackle these issues?

United Carlton, experts in print management software, examine the statistics and facts surrounding this issue and discuss how businesses can do more to encourage employee happiness and promote productivity in the workplace.


For many of us, talking to colleagues is one of the highlights of the working day. However, if we do this for too long it can turn into a distraction. Every person has their own style of working, so becoming too engaged in conversation with colleagues can cause us to lose focus. This represents one of the main disadvantages of open plan working spaces – employees can easily become annoyed by the constant distractions, as they do not have a lot of control over their environment.

The frequency of impromptu meetings is another significant problem for office workers. Unplanned meetings can cause workers to fall behind with their tasks and can potentially disrupt the entire day’s schedule, adding an extra level of disruption.

Additionally, open plan offices often feature a speaker or radio with music being played, which can be a huge distraction for workers, particularly if they need to focus on a specific task. Each person will have their own music tastes, so this can be an issue if the office uses a set playlist. One way of overcoming this problem is to play music at a low volume so that it does not disrupt productivity,

Privacy is another issue – sometimes employees can feel as though they are being watched in an open plan space, which can lead to a decrease in the amount of risks that they are willing to take. This is bad for businesses, as it hampers innovation and the generation of new ideas. In larger offices, where employees may not know every person, this can be detrimental. It is likely that employees would feel more relaxed if they were given access to their own private spaces. Having private space within the office could result in better decision making and increased creativity levels.

Limiting creativity

As having fewer walls meant that costs for materials would be lower, the idea of an open plan office space was originally suggested as a cost cutting method. Having an open plan office also meant that employees were more likely to share their equipment – in the past, traditional offices would allow each worker to have access to their own office supplies, such as printers and fax machines. Workers in open plan offices are encouraged to share their equipment, which again allows businesses to save money.

The idea of an open plan office is to encourage creativity among workers; putting workers in close proximity with their colleagues is intended to allow them to share ideas more easily. This is often touted as one of the key benefits of the open plan office; many business owners believe that by encouraging communication, their workers will be happier – but this is often untrue. Karlstad University in Sweden conducted research which showed that workers employed in open plan offices demonstrated lower levels of job satisfaction and overall happiness compared to workers employed in traditional office spaces. Business owners would surely presume otherwise when considering the benefits of open plan offices – so what is the reason behind this?

Expert opinions

IPSOS and the Workforce Futures Team of Steelcase conducted research on an international scale, which showed that 85% of employees are dissatisfied with their working conditions and find it difficult to concentrate at work. Furthermore, 95% of people said that having a private space to work in was important and that this would help them to determine a good workplace. Just 41% of respondents reported that private space was something that they had at their current workplace. Shockingly, 31% of respondents reported that they had to leave their office in order to get the required amount of work done. This could cause a number of stress related issues, as it disrupts the work-life balance.

Another study of over 10,000 workers found that employees lose 86 minutes of their working day as a direct result of workplace distractions, which can cause them to become stressed about completing their tasks on time and cause them to lose their motivation. Many workers admitted that their working environment makes it difficult to think constructively and limits their ability to be creative.

Architectural firm Tompkins has reportedly said that business owners who choose to implement open plan offices are always enthusiastic to start with, however, after just a few months “a good 50 percent” change their mind and decide to arrange a more traditional office space.

The verdict

It is vital for workers to have a good work-life balance, as it helps with their overall productivity and happiness. It is therefore important for businesses to ensure that they get this balance right for their employees. As discussed, the layout of your office space can have quite a large impact on employees, which could affect their work in the long term. Research indicates that 46% of the 25.7 million days taken off work in 2017 were caused by stress or depression related issues – it is important to tackle these. Employers should take note if they wish to encourage a positive working environment for their staff.