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The Office Layout Debate: The Open Office & Cubicles

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The last half-century has seen an enormous shift in office furniture and office space layout as the cubicle became the standard in offices around the world. This shift, in turn, sparked backlash from people who believed that workers were losing out by being put into their own little cells. In fact, the debate about using cubicles or choosing an open office layout still occurs in workplaces today. Let's examine the pros and cons of each choice.

Cubicles are seen as the best office furniture choice for providing workers with a semi-private space in which to complete their work. The walls can help shield employees from the visual distractions around them, but they aren't the best for filtering out disruptive noises. Cubicles can be an obvious option for employers who are looking to maximize office space without allotting each worker a private office, but they can also make employees feel a little claustrophobic or boxed-in.

An open office setup, on the other hand, brings down the walls and allows coworkers to see one another as they tackle their tasks. This concept may sound extremely appealing, especially if your company is focused on collaboration and team effort, but you should also take the downsides into consideration. For one, being in constant sight of other employees may drive a worker to strike up a conversation, but it likely won't spur the lengthy, brainstorming type that executives might hope for. That's because, while bouncing ideas off a coworker may be commonplace, it can be difficult to pitch ideas with the knowledge that an entire department might be listening in. That said, for young startups, the spirit of camaraderie might be enough to surpass these obstacles and make an open workspace a preferable choice. If you do believe that an open workspace is the way to go, you may want to establish separate meeting areas where employees can meet in pairs or small groups without involving the entire office. Not only can such an addition facilitate more open conversation, but it can spare other workers from the added noise. Some employers have taken extra steps to alleviate the noise associated with open offices by taking more drastic measures, from physical sound-masking systems to so-called "pink noise" systems that can drown out human speech for anyone standing more than a few feet away from the speaker.

If you're having trouble deciding which option is better for your office, remember that there's a third possibility - private offices. Of course, this solution is only possible for companies that have the space and ability to do so, but giving employees a completely private and quiet area to work in can foster better productivity. With this benefit, however, comes the downside of lower levels of communication among the team, and perhaps less creativity and collective brainstorming.

No matter which of these three approaches you decide to take, you should be sure that you are confident in your choice before you purchase office furniture or reconfigure your office.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHARLIE O'BRIEN
Charlie O'Brien is a professional writer specializing in workplace design. His writing focuses on office furniture (http://www.liquisbusinessinteriors.com/), workplace layout, and related topics. His work has been featured on multiple office furniture websites.

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