Privacy in an Open Office: Is It Necessary?

Privacy in an Open Office: Is It Necessary? on

There is no one size fits all office plan—here’s how to find a balance that works for everyone

It wasn’t too many years ago that contemporary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and other ahead-of-their-time architects like him decided that office workers needed freedom from confinement—a liberation from the small “boxes” they spent 8+ hours a day in as they trudged through their work week.

Believe it or not, the open-office space that we all view as modern actually came into being sometime during the first half of the 20th century. Just a short time after, companies began to realize that open plans, while affording certain benefits, also had their negatives.

It’s estimated that nearly 70 percent of American employees are working in open offices (according to an International Management Facility Association survey) and yet the concept, and its benefits, are still open to debate. With that in mind, let’s take a look at open spaces—the benefits, the drawbacks and solutions that everyone can agree upon.

Open offices: the positives

Without walls to confine them, workers not only experience an increased feeling of freedom and autonomy, but they are also able to communicate with each other more easily. Those who love the open office concept tout that this type of an arrangement encourages creativity and collaboration, improves productivity and boosts morale.

It’s believed that when people can interact easily and freely with each other, the results include a generation of new ideas, solutions and innovation. And because everyone on the team (except perhaps the execs) is in one open space, there’s more cohesiveness in the team—everyone works side-by-side towards the same mission.

So for those who are looking to break down the walls, open offices can provide:

  • Improved productivity
  • More creativity and collaboration
  • Increased innovation and new ideas
  • Boosts morale
  • Fosters teamwork

But what about privacy?

If you’re not already, picture an open office space where people are highly engaged, interacting and productive. What do you see? More importantly, what do you hear? If you’re envisioning voices chattering, keyboards clicking, email and message alerts dinging, then you’re realizing the possible downside to an open office concept. Depending on what kind of work your company does, noise can inhibit productivity and distract employees from their tasks.

There’s also the fact that many people don’t work well out in the open and others, even though a certain amount of “community” space is good, need their privacy. Having personal, private space is important according to experts, who say that everyone needs somewhere in the office that they can go to be alone—whether to have a conversation, clear their mind or simply concentrate on more arduous tasks.

So with all of the benefits, open office spaces do have potential downsides:

  • Noise
  • Distractions
  • Too much activity
  • Zero privacy

What’s the solution?

Leading companies today have adopted to created a kind of hybrid to the open office by designing their workplace with a combination of both open and private spaces. In common areas, there are tables, couches, benches and other pieces that encourage collaboration—comfortable, functional and visually appealing. So they not only serve a purpose, they look attractive and beckon employees to huddle.

To give everyone a place of their own, there are private offices with either glass or traditional walls so as not to detract from the open look of the office, or architectural walls that offer acoustical privacy while not completely separating the individual from the rest of the team.

While there are always two (sometimes three) sides to every story, when it comes to creating open spaces in the work environment, companies that incorporate elements of both seem to be winning. With just the right amount of privacy and open areas, productivity, teamwork and innovation can soar and employees are comfortable, motivated and look forward to coming to work.

Compass Office Solutions can help you find the perfect balance of open and private work spaces with our functional furniture solutions. Contact us today for details.