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Open Office Designs Remain Popular In The U.S. Despite The Fact Many Employees Hate Them

A floor of cubicles in the Justice Department's Constitution Square 4 space

Employees voicing opposition to open-office floor plans dates back to at least 2014, but real estate planners continue to buck this opposition.

Open offices have only become more prevalent, with employers continuing to choose open-floor plans in numerous settings, according to a recent study by Clutch. 

Clutch interviewed 502 full-time employees and discovered only 28% prefer open office spaces while 52% desire private offices. In fact, 53% of employees interviewed value their own office space more than they value designated places for relaxation, set-aside quiet areas, and collaborative or large meeting rooms, the study found. 

The survey noted even with employees citing a clear preference for more privacy, employers continue to favor open-office designs that mirror concepts launched by tech companies like Google.

WhiteBox Real Estate co-founder  Grant Pruitt said the ideal office site often hinges on a series of factors that include everything from the industry a company works in to the geographic area of the office to the type of employees in the space. 

“If you are talking oil and gas, I would say 95%, if not greater … are [in traditional] offices, whereas on the other end of the spectrum, when you look at tech companies, they are going to be pretty close to 100% open,” Pruitt said.

He said companies mirroring tech companies can push too far with open spaces, causing employees unintended stress.

Pruitt recalled one international company that set up shop in DFW years back. The firm tried to cut costs and squeeze all employees into less square footage and required them to rotate from desk to desk. The outcome of this experiment ran counter to the company's thoughts on productivity. 

“It did end up having an adverse impact on their recruiting, retention and their staff. And actually it was a very large [corporate] presence in a very large rollout; and it doesn’t exist anymore,” Pruitt said. 

For Pruitt, the most successful model is to balance privacy and sound concerns against openness and transparency.

His own group moved to cubicles with glass tops that create barriers for sound and create some distance, while also allowing enough line of sight to create transparency. 

No matter which way a company goes, failure to create the right environment in someone’s eyes is inevitable, he said.  

“It’s going to be hard to find a solution that makes everyone happy, you are always going to have somebody who is not happy,” he said.

But he said companies should try diligently to pick an office that marries well with the people it has and the work environment that uniquely makes sense for it.