Standard Office Layout: Do those walls hurt or help?

In my previous blog post, I listed reasons companies decide on an open floor plan. Doing so cuts down on unnecessary emails, encourages communication, increases productivity for teams and prompts employees to be quieter since proximity dictates discretion.

I went through each reason with a devil’s advocate on my shoulder and concluded there were as many reasons to have private offices as there were to use an open floor plan. Each client I work with is different and I am glad they are the ones making that decision.

But as promised, I wanted to devote the follow-up blog post to the reasons that a standard office layout, with an emphasis on offices or cubes, may work well for your company.


Having the privacy of an office allows employees to work for longer periods of time uninterrupted. When there’s a physical barrier, other employees have to work harder to strike up a conversation about their kid’s baseball game or last night’s episode of the Walking Dead. If they have to leave their office, walk down to yours, and knock on your door, they may rethink whether this is imperative information for you to know.


  • If your employees work alone on individual projects, individual offices make sense. Terms like “teamwork” and “collaboration” are best used in reference to software developers. However, the majority of employees don’t need to brainstorm and bounce ideas off others.


  • Open floor plans = tuned out employees. Open office layouts encourage noise and more employees are using headphones to create a buffer. When employees are wearing these, it can be harder for them to concentrate on their work. Some people relax with music and can work with it, others are only using it as a way to block out the noise.


  • An open floor plan means employees can hear each other’s conversations. If they know they can be heard, there’s a chance they will only engage in “safe” topics.” This means they are less likely to open up and develop good working relationships. There’s a great deal of research around the notion that employees enjoy work environments when they connect to their co-workers – something that can only result from creating more meaningful connections.

Now to play devil’s advocate:

1) Privacy is a double edged sword. If you know no one can see you while you are working, you may become less productive. If you know your boss could walk by your desk at any moment, you try to appear productive or better yet, are actually doing work.

2) Perhaps we should encourage more team collaboration? After all, if you are relying on one individual to the exclusion of teams that share knowledge, you may regret it when that one individual leaves your company, taking all their knowledge with them.

3) I don’t have a solution for headphones. I’ve worked with clients who struggled with the noise levels, but short of telling adults to think of their co-workers, what can you do to make it quieter?  Verdict: This one goes to the pro-office camp.

4) Mixing work and friendships works well for those doing the mixing and not as well for those who prefer to keep these two separate. If we connect on a deeper level with our co-workers, this doesn’t always mean that the quality of the work increases, but at a minimum the employee’s happiness level does which usually translates to a better work environment. Verdict: too close to call.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear from you.

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