Open Plan Office Layouts: Could the Dreaded Cubicle be Making a Comeback?

We recently wrote about the downsides of fancy playroom-style coworking spaces and offices that have been taking over the outdated divided office cubicle designs. Tech companies in Silicon Valley are now examining how a minimalist approach with little visual stimulation are optimal for concentration.

Ball pits and bean bag lounge style rest areas are now being replaced with industrial warehouse-style office layouts with no dividers or cubicle separators.

However, regardless of colour schemes and themed resting areas; open-plan seating in offices is still very much in fashion. Facebook brags that its HQs in California is the largest open-plan office space in the world. Perhaps the most interesting of all, Mark Zuckerberg the CEO himself sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by colleagues and other team members.

Open-plan office spaces date back to the early 90’s, and the idea of placing the Manager in the centre of the room where all the action happens can be traced back to a German office landscape movement called Bürolandschaft from the 60’s. Nowadays, this is being slowly phased out due to confidentiality requirements; however in the defense of open plan offices, this more traditional approach to hierarchies promotes a fairer working environment and more approachable management team.

The new start-up culture also echoes this mentality, where the whole company squashes around one table to brainstorm very quickly stops becoming a reality after a few months of consecutive growth. The downside, management would probably agree, is focus. Endless disruptions are inevitable.

Until remote working replaces the communal office, love them or hate them, open-plan layouts are here to stay. With public spaces being the cheapest option for many companies; employees are left to fend for privacy any way they can, with the use of noise cancelling headphones being the obvious answer for many.

Employees need for a peaceful working environment which almost seems counter intuitive to this fad of throwing everyone into the same communal space. This has driven San Francisco-based start-up Oscar to quote that not providing a quiet place to concentrate could cost companies a collective USD $55 billion in 2018 alone. Oscar has completed many tests on the effect of environment to concentration and productivity.

So, if employees are striving for peace and companies merely providing open-plan layouts, perhaps the answer is the dreaded office cubicle. With portable soundproof pods experiencing exponential growth since 2017, large conglomerates such as American Express and Google are leading the way with the designs; so with the cubicle being redesigned to carry sound and become more aesthetically pleasing, maybe soundproof pods are the new cubicles.

Read more about the disadvantages of open plan offices here.