Open vs. Enclosed Office Spaces

We were first introduced to the cubicle more than forty years ago, and the debate of its benefit still continues today. It was created to give employees more privacy and personalization than previous work environments, which consisted of desks lined up in rows within an open room, but none-the-less, the open-plan office the cubicle creates continues to be compared to the ‘ideal’ of the enclosed private office. However, both have their good points.

Open Office Space

  • – Most appreciate the sense of community that an open work environment can support.
  • – Open space allows for better communication and exchange of information among co-workers making it easier to ask each other questions [two heads work better than one!].
  • – Some employees prefer being among other people, not wanting to feel “closed in” or “all alone.”
  • – The open work environment allows some to know what’s “going on” in the office.

Enclosed Private Office

  • – Privacy was rated the number one benefit of having an enclosed office.
  • – The idea of having walls around you, keeping roving eyes from drifting over to your work and “your space” promotes a feeling of security in some.
  • – Noise reduction.
  • – For some, an enclosed space also translates into a larger amount of floor space which is seen as a perk.

These are some of the general benefits of both types of work environments. However, recent research revealed that preference for open or enclosed work environments was based on work style and the type of work the individual performs. For example, computer programmers, who tend to be more social and collaborative at work, preferred the open-plan office while software developers and engineers, whose work tends to require higher levels of concentration and freedom from distraction preferred an enclosed private office.

So, if you’re designing a website then you might want an open-plan office, while if you’re the copywriter for the same site you might want the quiet atmosphere of your own enclosed office.

Age also plays a factor preference. Younger workers, particularly Gen Y [born 1979-1997], are more interested in learning and collaborating with their peers and more experienced workers. This could potentially cause problems in the development and growth of both groups. Having more experienced workers in enclosed offices could reduce learning and development in less experienced workers, and more experienced workers lose the benefit of being intellectually challenged by the younger less experienced worker.

It’s hard to say which type of commercial office fitout is “better” than the other. It would make the most sense to create and design a work environment that incorporated both open and enclosed work spaces to fit the needs of most employees.