Working Outside the Box: Open Offices, Part 1

example of open office without cubicles for employees

workers in an open office environment

In the 1999 movie “Office Space,” Peter Gibbons frees himself from cubicle hell by disassembling part of his workstation and knocking it to the floor, giving him a view to the window and the outside. Watching the movie today, one wonders how would Peter react to the modern post-cubicle landscape, also called the “open office.”

As of late 2014, more than two-thirds of U.S. offices had adopted this workstation configuration, which is intended to increase collaboration by removing physical barriers to communication, as well as to foster an increased sense of culture and teamwork. Unfortunately for many workers, open office environments create their own challenges.

Can You Hear Me Now? Noise is an issue in an open office space.

The most frequent complaint regarding open workspaces is noise. A word spoken in normal tones can carry across entire rows of desks, disrupting employees’ concentration. For a person participating in a video call or hangout from his or her desk, it can be particularly frustrating when coworkers chatting about last night’s game drown out the voices of virtual meeting presenters. Many workers use noise-canceling headphones playing soft music or white noise to maintain focus and improve productivity.

Open Offices and Health Concerns

By removing walls and partitions, we have unintentionally enhanced the vectors for airborne transmission of colds and flu. A single sneeze from the person sitting across from you can expose you to possible infection. Fortunately, this unpleasant reality is somewhat offset by the increased ability to work from home, allowing ill employees to contribute and attend key meetings without putting their colleagues at risk.

Privacy Considerations

In the open workspace, it can be extremely challenging to have a sensitive conversation without others overhearing. Confidentiality concerns aside, disagreements and differences of opinion are on public display and can create an appearance of discord or discontent when that may not actually be the case. For this reason, Silicon Valley workers reserve conference rooms or go for a walk outside to be able to speak more freely on delicate topics.

Generational Differences

The common perception is that Millennials, who grew up using instant messaging and social media, are more comfortable with the disruption of an open environment. In contrast, older workers who spent many years in private or semi-private offices and cubicles, often view the modern workspace as a “boiler room” and struggle to concentrate. While this generalization is largely true, evidence also suggests that Millennials struggle with the same challenges as their older colleagues, although the younger workers are perhaps more tolerant of the inconveniences.

Find the Right Workers for Your Workplace with Menlo Partners Staffing

Whether your company is set up in open spaces or cubicles, it’s crucial to have the right people on your team. Menlo Partners Staffing is a trusted resource by companies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact our office today for assistance with your next hiring need! Thanks for reading.


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