It's possible for something to seem good but not actually be so, at least not universally. For instance, drinking orange juice was once considered smart and healthy. Now we know that fruit juice is filled with sugar, lacks important nutrients found in whole fruit, and its acidity can wreak havoc on some people's stomachs. That doesn't make OJ terrible, but it's not as simple as we once thought it was. The same may be true for open offices.
Open offices, or workspaces that lack traditional walls, doors, and cubicles, apparently foster collaboration, create a more level playing field professionally, and allow for flexibility. Those things can be true, and workers can still be unhappy working in open offices. Workers really don't like them at all, according to a survey from public relations company Bospar.
Tell me how you really feel
More than three-quarters of the 1,000 U.S. office workers surveyed said that they "hate" open offices. The reasons they cited include lack of privacy (43%), having to overhear personal conversations (34%), not being able to concentrate (29%), worrying about sensitive information being overheard (23%), and not being able to do their best thinking (21%).
"An overwhelming majority of Americans want to work in quiet places, but they can't do that in today's open office environments," said Bospar executive Curtis Sparrer in a press release.
Take these results with a grain of salt, because it's not that U.S. workers want to go back to the traditional layout -- they want to telecommute instead of working in an office at all. Of the respondents, 84% said they would prefer to work from home, with 60% naming "not having to commute" as the reason why, while 41% said they would be more productive at home. In addition, 35% said they would produce more if they could work at home (Respondents could name more than one reason.)
Talk to your employees
Working from home provides employees with clear benefits, but allowing telecommuting doesn't always meet the needs of the company. It's important to involve workers in discussions about how the office is laid out. It's possible to have open collaborative areas as well as private workspaces that workers have access to.
Open offices certainly have benefits, but there's a fair amount of research about their drawbacks as well. No company needs to deal in absolutes. One company might bring back cubicles while allowing some remote work. Another might keep the open office, add private spaces, but keep remote work to a minimum.
It's important for companies and employees to talk about these issues. The days of private offices surrounding cubicle farms with a clear worker/management hierarchy may be gone. That does not mean the current open office format has to prevail. It's possible, with discussion and patience, to find solutions that foster both collaboration and thinking while also keeping employees happy.