Touted as the “cure” to row after row of soul-sucking cubicles, open office spaces promised collaboration, innovation, increased productivity and so much more.
With their cost-efficient design, clean look and supposed productivity boost, open offices sounded like the perfect setup…until they didn’t.
A study done in 2018 by Harvard Business School discovered that face-to-face interaction between coworkers decreased by 70 percent when employees moved from a closed workspace to an open office environment. Exactly the opposite of what they’re supposed to do!
For the most part, employees are less happy in open office spaces where distraction and lack of privacy make working difficult. And employee dissatisfaction means decreased productivity and higher turnover. Another 2018 study found that approximately 13 percent of office employees considered quitting their job because of this office layout.
Let’s talk about some of the most common open office problems and what you can do to mitigate them.
1. Loud Noise With No Escape
It’s no surprise that corralling dozens of employees in the same spaces is going to create noise. Even the necessary, everyday office functions like collaborating with a coworker on a project, printing documents or even simply typing can contribute to the level of noise pollution in an office.
And that’s not even getting into non-work-related noises like personal phone calls, lunch conversations and more.
Unbearable noise levels are one of the top complaints when it comes to open office spaces, with over 63 percent of employees reporting a lack of quiet space that they could use to complete their work.
Not only is loud noise extremely annoying, it is also detrimental to work quality and efficiency. It can take approximately 20 minutes to regain focus after a disruption, especially noise disruptions; studies show that U.S. office workers lose 86 minutes of work a day due to distractions.
Consistent noise disruption is a common and frustrating problem in open offices and can lead to less output, low employee morale and more turnover.
2. No Limit to Distractions
Open offices claim to make it easier to interact, but what they really do is make it easier to distract.
From noise distractions to constant visual disruptions, these potent open office problems offer a constant flow of input bombarding employees from all sides.
Even the most dedicated workers can find themselves losing precious work time as they are exposed to distracting conversations, music, groups and more.
3. What’s That Smell?
An open office is full of scents, from that coworker's excessive perfume to that tuna sandwich another colleague enjoys for lunch.
Unlike other distractions such as conversations, music and temperature, smell usually can’t be immediately resolved. In an open office environment, there’s nothing to stop bad smells from permeating the whole area, making work uncomfortable for long periods of time.
Studies show that smells influence not only our moods and behaviors but work performance thanks to their direct and indirect impact on our brains. Even commonly accepted scents like florals, citrus and peppermint can be distracting if not used in moderation or if an employee has previous negative associations with a smell.
If that’s the case, one can only imagine how distracting “bad” smells – like sweat, body odor, onion, garlic, etc. – can be.
Employees may find it especially difficult to resolve this problem, thanks to its sensitive nature. After all, it’s never fun to be the one to tell a coworker that their smell is bothering you.
4. The Temperature is Uncomfortable
It’s too hot, it’s too cold, and it’s never just right for most people. Regulating the temperature of an open office can be a full-time job in and of itself. A 2018 survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that nearly 50 percent of office workers are unhappy with the temperature in their office.
Exercising control over our environment – whether by setting the temperature, decorating, dimming the lights or something else – is one way to keep employees happy at work. If office workers feel like they have no control over their environment, morale will plummet.
That being said, it’s not feasible to be constantly adjusting temperatures throughout the day. Employees can bring jackets, blankets, heaters, fans, or wear breathable clothing, but open offices
may still experience disagreements over the right to control the thermostat.
5. Employee Health Is On the Line
Open offices can be annoying, but did you know they can be dangerous to your health, too?
With no barriers to limit the flow of germs, open office employees are 62 percent more likely to take sick leave than their closed office counterparts. Additionally, harmful levels of noise increase blood pressure and trigger the release of stress hormones, making employees feel even worse.
A Cornell University study shows that employees in high-noise environments experience increased epinephrine (or adrenaline) levels as well as residual behaviors that indicate a lack of motivation even after they’re removed from a noisy situation. Open office employees are less likely to be motivated in their work and more likely to feel stress.
This same study also indicates that open office employees are at a higher risk for bad posture and the related health effects.
6. There’s No Escape for the Introverts
It might surprise you to learn that introverts make up a large percentage of the workforce. What happens when you place an introvert in an open office environment?
They’re not that happy.
Introverts are easily overstimulated by the loud noises taking place around them and by the constant visual input and interruptions. Constant stimulating environments aren’t beneficial to anyone, especially to introverts who have no place to get away.
Open offices seldom provide relief or relaxation rooms for workers who need time away from stimulation.
7. Lack of Privacy and Security
One of the worst problems in an open office is the lack of privacy, which often negatively affects performance.
Employees actually do worse when they believe that all eyes (and ears) are on them. They are often so concerned with appearing busy that they aren’t working at full capacity.
A lack of privacy is also frustrating for those trying to make a personal call or engage in a personal conversation. It also leads to a lack of security, which can be a huge problem for companies that deal with confidential client info or health records.
Avoid Common Open Office Problems: Invest in Zenbooth
Open offices fail when they go for a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Yes, it’s important to have areas for collaboration and gathering, but it’s equally important to provide rooms where employees can recharge, avoid noises and other common open office problems.
Our solution? The Zenbooth.
Zenbooths offer the best of both worlds: they’re easily installed in an open office environment and provide a quiet and private safe haven for individuals and groups to work. Our meeting booths come in a variety of sizes, including Solo, Duo, and Quad options.
Each model offers several benefits that directly combat stereotypical open office problems:
- Sound optimization. Our booths offer an optimized acoustic experience to limit distracting outside noise and keep your conversations private.
- Controllable lighting. LED lighting works with skylight ceilings to give you full control of your visual environment.
- Powerful ventilation system. Zenbooth’s high-powered ventilating system keeps the air fresh and cool, eliminating nasty smells and creating a comfortable work environment.
- Wood-paneled walls. Three wooden walls protect your privacy and security as you work.