03 January, 2015

Open Plan vs. Personal Space-friendly Office

The concept of personal space is absent in most offices. Gone are the days of cubicles where you could sit secure in your cubby-hole and work away or unwind a little bit without having your co-workers having much knowledge of it. Now are the days of open plan offices where anyone and everyone can see every minute action of yours. There is simply no privacy and no personal space – you are like an open book to the whole office.

While it may be a great idea to have an open plan office from the point of view of more open communication and bonding, the idea has its faults. Co-workers, especially immature and unprofessional ones, don’t realize when they intrude on your duties. They harp over your head about this-and-that and of things that have no connection whatsoever to anything!

Besides this, several offices cramp everyone together. While you’re working your colleague’s elbow hits you, or the arm rest of their chair knocks into yours, or their mouse comes near your keyboard while their personal belongings creep near to your PC. It’s aggravating, annoying and at times intolerable to work in such situations.

The open plan also breeds an element of tremendous distraction. Your senses are open to your immediate surroundings. Focusing on work becomes a humongous challenge with the receptionist’s telephone ringing, clients walking in and out, seniors firing their assistants, sharing funny social media memes, etc. all pulling your senses in different directions leading to utter mayhem at your work desk.

Like in everything in life, there has to be boundaries set. An open plan office needs to make sure that while employees can still communicate freely and co-ordinate smoothly, they also need to be provided adequate room to perform well without external factors impeding their duties. Work performance is affected by the factors mentioned above and hence the demarcations have to be drawn for the optimal performance of every employee balanced with a friendly-office environment.

Since I’ve always liked Psychology, I’m going to be taking a slight bend here that’s connected to this topic.

While extroverts in the office might LOVE the idea of an open plan due to the immense opportunities it offers for interaction and communication, introverts privately cringe at being exposed to the whole world like that. Introverts gain comfort and are at peace when they have all their personal space for their own. An open plan office is enough to jar their senses and keep them from performing to the best of their skills, experience and abilities, to an extent. A quiet place, sound-proofed from noise, barred from distracting sights, and secluded from social interactions is simply heavenly bliss for introverts.

An open plan office does nothing but drain the energy of an introvert. Their head feels like a whirlwind or a tornado amidst the cacophony of an open plan office. Introverts need tranquility and breathing space in order to perform smoothly. An open plan office can actually affect their mood and make them feel deeply uneasy. It’s a very unsettling, restless feeling that crawls inside them in such an environment.

If you have introverts in your office, please take care of their preferences in order for them to work well. Sit down with them, ask them how they would like to work, make their work desks a place where they can adroitly perform the duties assigned to them. Then look back and see the satisfied smiles on their faces.

By all means, have an open plan office but remember that you have to make adjustments for those talented, hardworking employees who can work best in a slightly different environment.

After all, a successful office is one that has happy employees.

Here’s an example by Susan Cain, the renowned author of the best-selling Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking: Quiet Spaces where dedicated spaces are modeled into the office plan for those who need a secluded and focused environment to work in.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you feel your professional best in an open plan office or would you like to have space of your own to work in?

Venice :)


  1. Nice article on the need of having sufficient space for working. Over crowding of staff without proper sitting arrangement is always an hindrance to the performance of the workers apart from loss of privacy of the individual.

    1. Yeah SV. Most new companies are just joining the herd without really giving thought to he office plan. An office design too is integral in determining performance of the employees. I hope that the entrepreneurs realize this soon and act upon it.