A changing trend in office setups has been the argument for an open plan office v cubicle. Since 1964, office cubicles have been a prominent office design. That was until the inception of the newer concept of the open plan layout. This begs the question, which is better? Plus, how do they differ in terms of encouraging productivity and collaboration? Read on to find out for yourself! This article will undeniably give you food for thought!
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Open plan office v cubicle
|Feature||Open plan office||Cubicle|
|Level of privacy||Lower||Higher|
|Level of collaboration||Higher||Lower|
|Level of focus||Lower||Higher|
|Level of noise||Higher||Lower|
|Level of productivity||Lower||Higher|
|Level of space efficiency||Higher||Lower|
|Level of hygiene||Lower||Higher|
|Level of office control||Lower||Higher|
|Cost efficiency of office setup||Higher||Lower|
The above table seems to place the cubicle in the winning position. That is… until you assign a weighting to each feature. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into each feature to see who is suited to open plans and cubicle offices. Plus, find out what factors are person-dependent and which scenarios foster better work an open plan or cubicle. You might just learn that your workspace is hindering or harnessing your work energy!
Office workers are losing approximately 86 minutes per day due to distraction according to a study of 10,000 workers surveyed. Source
Level of privacy
In an open plan office, there will be a lower level of privacy compared to a cubicle. With open plans, there is might be a privacy panel, if you’re lucky, to divide your desk from your neighbors. However, even with that there, it still does little to separate you from your colleague.
Every action you perform is visible to you colleagues around you. From what you have on your screen to if you are picking on snacks
Consequently, there’s minimal privacy for workers in an open plan area.
Cubicles are a step up in terms of privacy as they generally have walls or privacy panels surrounding your desk area. The higher these are, the greater your level of privacy will be.
It makes life easier in terms of storing and handling confidential information too. A co-worker can easily see what documents are on your desk or what you have open on your computer screen.
Whereas in a cubicle desk, someone has to physically walk into your workspace to see such information.
There won’t be 100% privacy at your cubicle station, however. It’s unlikely that you can hold a meeting at your cubicle with confidential information being discussed.
You’ll probably still need to book a meeting room or go somewhere private if confidential topics need to be discussed.
But you’ll certainly feel like less of a goldfish than in an open plan. Furthermore, if the cubicle is in near a quiet wall, you won’t have as much traffic passing you by.
So you can have a snack attack with more comfort and less judging eyes!
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Level of collaboration
Being in an open plan office makes it much easier and inviting to collaborate with your fellow worker. This is particularly advantageous if you work on the same project or in the same department.
This can inspire helpful and informative discussions and make it easier to troubleshoot questions.
This is most likely one of the biggest advantages of sharing an office.
While most of the features listed are clear cut in terms of whether they are a benefit or disadvantage, the level of collaboration could be debatable as to whether it’s beneficial or not.
Collaboration benefits are all dependent on the type of work that you perform. For coders, it’s probably not a benefit, but for organizing an event, collaboration could inspire ideas.
The level of collaboration is less encouraged in a cubicle. There’s a bit more effort involved in speaking with a colleague.
You’ll probably have to stand up and walk to their cubicle. Unless you have fairly low partitions dividing you from each other.
Cubicles are therefore superior if you want to minimize such distractions. Which, let’s be honest, will often involve a high degree of chit chat and socializing!
Level of focus
Studies have revealed that when working in an open plan office, concentration levels are much lower.
One study found that 31% of workers surveyed had to leave their office to be able to focus and get their work completed.
Distractions from the other people working, on meeting calls and possibly having people call to their desk can all remove you from being engaged in your work.
What’s problematic about sharing an office is that when your focus is interrupted, it can be rather difficult to refocus on your work.
This might not pose as big of an issue if you perform primarily shallow work, e.g., answering emails, frequent meetings, working on short and quick tasks.
However, such interruptions can diminish your progress if you’re trying to participate in deep work. Such work includes writing a report, coding, researching a topic or trying to digest a difficult topic.
Cubicles help to reduce these distractions as they are less visible to you. The barriers can also reduce the noise of people reverberating around the room.
Cubicles are therefore often better suited to people who are introverted, easily distracted or those who are sensitive to noise.
Level of noise
Both open plan offices and cubicles will be subject to a degree of noise from people and background noises. However, the noise will be better absorbed in a cubicle than an open workspace.
According to a survey, sound privacy is the leading concern for people working in an open plan.
The cubicle walls act as sound barriers which can absorb and block the noise travelling throughout the workplace.
An open plan office reaches approximately 60 – 65 decibels (equivalent to a conversation).
This noise may be comforting to some workers who cannot stand the sound of complete silence.
However, again, if you are easily distracted or trying to focus, noise can be a source of irritation and distraction while you work.
Tip: White noise and pink noise can help to mask sounds around you and achieve greater focus.
Level of productivity
The cubicle office will prevail as the winner in all things productivity related. With less visible and audible distractions comes a greater ability to focus. The greater your focus, the better you will be able to stay productive.
What most people underestimate is just how difficult it is to stay focused. On top of that, every time you get distracted, it takes a surprising amount of time to fully refocus your mind on your work.
With an ambush of distractions in an open plan office, it’s inevitable that your productivity levels will take a hit.
One study found that 1 in 3 workers felt distracted when working in an open office area.
These effects are minimized in a cubicle. Therefore, if you do need to perform deep work, a cubicle in a quiet area could catapult your productivity to new heights.
If you truly want to engage in deep work, you’ll see that this is a leading benefit of a private office.
Level of space efficiency
Open plan offices make for more efficient use of office space than cubicles. Standard cubicle sizes tend to range between 125 – 175 square feet while open plan offices tend to be 100 – 125 square feet per person.
The cubicle size variation is based on assigning different sized cubicles to different types of workers.
For instance, programmers require less in terms of documents and folders, so a 125 square foot cubicle would generally be sufficient space.
In contrast, engineers may have drawings and project folders; hence, they tend to be given a larger cubicle around 175 square feet in size.
When office space is limited and you are trying to fit more people into an area, an open plan office is the most effective way to achieve that.
However, what’s not considered here is comfort of the employee.
If they have too little space to work in, it can hinder their work performance and satisfaction levels. This is regardless of whether they are placed in a cubicle or open plan desk.
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Level of hygiene
When sitting next to someone in an open plan desk, there’s little to barricade you from each other. Consequently, it is much easier for colds, flus and other ailments to spread and infect others.
If you have your own cubicle, you are less likely to become sick. Cubicle walls help to reduce your exposure to the person which can minimize the risk of becoming infected with a cold or flu.
Of course, a more effective indicator or hygiene is how much ventilation is in the area.
While having access to open windows will help, proper ventilation systems are the most effective means of introducing and maintaining clean air in the environment.
Level of control
In an open plan office, you are edge to edge with a colleague. This can lead to their items spilling into your area if they don’t keep their desk space clean. To add to that, if you are someone who cannot work in a messy environment, their unorganized desk area may impact on your productivity.
With a cubicle, you have complete control of the area. Nobody else can impede on that space.
You are in full control of how clean or messy the space is and how it is organized.
Plus, your sense of ownership is also elevated. You can have more access to storage and keep it secure under lock and key.
Cost of office setup
Fitting out an open plan workspace will usually be more cost effective than setting up a cubicle workplace.
Open plans are less demanding in terms of the furniture costs and materials required.
Cubicles, on the other hand, require a larger number of materials, such as walls or partitions and corner desks which are more expensive than straight desks.
That combined with the labor to install and fit these furnishings will be a more expensive outfit overall.
While no office layout is right or wrong, cubicles are generally a better option than open plan offices.
Especially for people who require privacy, quietness, minimal distractions and control of their workspace.
It’s also advantageous for those involved in deep work and people who are easily distracted by visual and audible distractions.
That said, if the main priorities are to encourage collaboration, optimize cost saving and make optimal use of space, then open plan offices are a superior choice.
On paper, the cubicle is the winner. But in reality, a mix of both collaborative and private workspaces are essential depending on the work you are performing. Fortunately, a meeting room can be the footprint for collaboration when the time needs it.
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