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Open Plan Work Spaces vs Cubicles – So Which is Best for Productivity?

Open Plan Work Spaces vs Cubicles – So Which is Best for Productivity?

Mention the topic of open plan work spaces vs cubicles to anyone working in or managing an office and chances are you’ll have a fairly lively debate on your hands. Some love the privacy and lack of distraction you get working in a cubicle, whereas others find the solitude and lack of human interaction pretty soul destroying. So the question is, which makes us work harder, open plan or cubicle working?

First of all, we have to work out what it is that makes us more productive at work. Lots of factors come into play, but one thing’s for sure; a happy worker is a more productive one. Recent research conducted by the University of Warwick, which included four different experiments on more than 700 people, showed that if we’re happy, we work harder. 12% harder to be precise. So if a happy worker is a more productive one, then which makes workers happier, open plan offices or cubicles?

Open plan offices were originally designed in the 1950s and earlier this year, Facebook unveiled their new open plan office in Menlo Park, California, which Mark Zuckerberg described as “the largest open floor plan in the world”

The idea of the open plan office was that collaboration and productivity increases as communication and ideas flow more freely between workers. Before open plan offices came along, the workforce was often stationed in fairly oppressive, tightly packed, regimented lines, like this happy lot from the 40s. So, has it worked? Are we happier and more productive as a result of the open plan office?

1940s office

It depends. In 2011, Matthew Davis found that open plan offices were detrimental to workers’ satisfaction, attention spans and productivity. Seems like the more we’re interrupted, the more stressed out we get and the less we get done. We’ve all been there, the loud crisp cruncher, the incessant moaner. So distracting! So cubicles must be the answer, right?

Cubicle working definitely has its advantages. The main benefits are privacy and lack of distracting annoyances. In a recent survey by Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase, a whopping 95% of workers said that privacy in the workplace was important to them and 85% said they were dissatisfied with their work environment. In a cubicle, you can focus a lot better, without getting drawn into other stuff. A big disadvantage, though, is that you can feel hemmed in and isolated, which can impact on your happiness. It looks like the overall popularity of the open plan office is on the wane with workers, with the exception of those in creative industries and cubicle working, although far from perfect, might have the edge if your work requires you to concentrate deeply.

Neither are perfect though. We’ve had half a century of open plan and cubicle working and we’re stressed out, distracted and craving privacy more than ever. So what’s the latest thinking in office design? Seems like work pods could be the way forward. Private, quiet, great to look at and you can even have a little snooze if you want to! What’s not to love?

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