Open plan office

It was the office layout everyone dreamed of, but is the popular open plan office layout finally on its way out?

This year, Forbes published an article making the point that flexible office spaces are already taking priority over the complicated open office plans and it’s no longer the CEOs who are calling the shots.[1]

And Forbes isn’t the only one to ditch the open plan office design for favourable flexible designs. Fortune Magazine published an article titled ‘The Open-Office Concept Is Dead’ and listed the reasons for this as too much noise and a lack of privacy. No one who needs to focus to get their work done wants to hear their co-workers discussing weekend plans with the kids.[2]

The concept of open offices was first invented in Germany in the 1950s with the idea to create workspaces free of dividing walls. The idea was that by tearing down literal barriers, creativity and productivity would skyrocket.

Open offices, by industry definition, includes spaces with cubicles, since cubicle walls aren’t permanent. But by popular definition, they simply mean a space without any high dividers.

In 2015, a Washington Post headline declared open offices were “destroying the workplace” with research confirming open plans might not foster collaboration and instead, decrease productivity. The article went on to say open office plans negatively affect an employee’s wellbeing while also increasing the number of sick days workers take.

In fact, a Canada Life Group study on employee health revealed that only 6.1 per cent of those surveyed thought it was healthy to be in an open plan environment and just 6.5 per cent thought it was productive. It also showed that those who worked in open plan offices took more than 70 per cent more sick days than those who worked from home.[3]

The cubicle is here to stay

The cubicle was created as an antidote to the open office floor plans in the 1950s and gave employees the choice to sit or stand as they worked in privacy. The goal wasn’t confinement but liberation, giving workers the flexibility to change postures throughout the day.

But now, employees are demanding flexible working spaces.

The hybrid and flexible offices of the future have already started appearing in big companies like Google and Dropbox where office layouts combine private offices, cubical banks and an open plan where dividers are completely dismantled. They also include sound proof rooms where employees can go to focus on their solo work.


[1] Bisnow, 2017 Is The Open-Office Plan Dead? Published by Forbes

[2] Entis, L. 2016 The Open-Office Concept Is Dead published by Fortune Magazine

[3] Landau, P. 2014 Open-plan offices can be bad for your health published by The Guardian