Productivity in the workplace: open-plan or closed office?

Posted on January 9, 2013 · Posted in Productivity, The Happy Workplace

Happiness and productivity in the workplace are affected by several factors but one of the most critical is workspace layout. Where people work in offices, one key decision is whether the design should be open-plan or closed. Here are some things to think about when deciding which might be best for your workplace.

Points for open-plan

1 The work buzz. Some architects are convinced that “buzz” – conversational noise and commotion – is both favourable for employees and good for productivity in the workplace. Private offices and other expressions of hierarchy are no longer considered valuable in the corporate world.

2 Less space per worker. Less working space per employee is not only cost-effective, ensuring best value for but also great for the working environment. Working close to each other boosts creative energy and mobility is an essential part of it.

3 Informality. This kind of open space office design is perfect for relatively young employees who are open to innovation. It’s possible to consider an open arrangement if your company places a stress on autonomy, informality and equality.

4 Non-stop motion. In an open environment, employees are always in motion, communicating with each other, gathering into small groups if necessary. Some employees may not even have permanent desks (called free-deskers).

Points against open-plan

Not everybody agrees with these points. Some argue that open-plan offices can actually raise stress levels leading to reduced productivity in the workplace. In her article for Time Ideas, Annie Murphy Paul writes about: Workplace woes: why the open office is a hotbed of stress.


1 High noise levels. Employees often complain about the noise of an open-plan office. “Research shows that the ceaseless hubbub can actually undermine our motivation.”

2 Lack of privacy. Although open-plan offices do encourage easier interaction amongst staff, “research shows that while conversations are indeed frequent among employees in open offices, they tend to be short and superficial — precisely because there are so many other ears around to listen.”

3 Distractions. For many people, it’s easy enough to be distracted when working alone, never mind when working in an open environment. Productivity in the workplace can suffer greatly when we are exposed to the vast array of visual and audible distractions, from people and the technology they use.

4 Stress. Although we have highlighted the importance of teamwork and social interaction elsewhere on this site, open-plan offices can nonetheless be stressful places to work. “… several decades of research have confirmed that open-plan offices are generally associated with greater employee stress, poorer co-worker relations and reduced satisfaction with the physical environment.”

Designing productivity in the workplace

Perhaps the most effective office layout should utilise elements of both designs. For instance, a commercial design and fit out which combines collaborative open spaces for creative teamwork, with a perimeter of meeting rooms and traditional offices. Of course, whatever design you choose should suit your own organisational circumstance. Productivity in the workplace is about what works best for you! What do you think?

Productivity in the workplace