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Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?

Is Open Office Really Better Than Cubicles?

For the last fifteen years, cubicles have been slowly disappearing from the work environment. What was originally developed to put character into assembly line types of offices is now considered soulless and impersonal. The open office model replaces the cube system as the best formula for workplace synergy, aiming to improve collaboration and the exchange of ideas. Open offices and flexible workspaces are spreading all over the world. In the United States alone, seventy percent (70%) of all offices have low or no dividing walls, with information technology firms as early advocates of the open office model.

Open Spaces: The Good and The Bad

Open offices are cost effective, mainly by maximizing floor space and lessening furniture overhead. More employees can be assigned on a floor with open offices compared to a floor with cubicles. A better sense of community is achieved with open offices, along with fostering cooperation, collaboration, innovation and creativity. The loudest advocates of open offices are those in information technology especially in Silicon Valley, advertising, and media.

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Barriers between managers and their subordinates are torn down with open offices, making management more approachable and accessible. Employees feel more like a part of a team, an enterprise that is, while more casual, innovative and dynamic. It also addresses the new kind of workforce, the mobile employees, who spend less than 60% of their time in the office. The rise of telecommuting and outsourcing contributes to underutilized workspace, one of the reasons why many companies, especially in the creative industries, opt for open offices. Some companies opt for open offices without permanent workstations for their employees, mobile or otherwise.

However, not everyone is sold on open offices. Privacy is lost on a table shared by many. People working on sensitive information would seek the privacy of conference rooms or smaller, private work areas (if any) to ensure security of data. Personal data almost becomes common knowledge with open spaces, due to close proximity of co-workers and also the lack of permanent workspace for others. The lack of permanent workstations can also add stress about privacy, with personal data trails left in the last workstation you used.

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While camaraderie amongst employees improved, it is also the biggest distraction. A false sense of productivity is created with open offices, where the chief complaints are the noise and loss of quiet time. It is difficult to concentrate on work when others are talking, discussing, and people drop by anytime. Another problem with open office is that it doesn’t recognize the fact that people work differently from others. The idea that one way of working is good for all, is wrong.  There is a time for concentration and a time to brainstorm. Most workers are forced to look for means to find time to concentrate, either by working outside the office, coming back to work at night, or buying noise-canceling earphones.

Cubicles: Simply Misunderstood?

Cubicles have been around since 1967, giving employees a small but rather cramped space of their own to work. These modular systems gave the illusion of having your own office, while at the same time giving managers a bullpen of talents to monitor with relative ease. The flexibility of the modular system allows the company to group teams faster, easier, with the idea of taking people of their offices to interact and collaborate more with their coworkers. The partitions of the cubicles give privacy and permanent space to each employee, alongside the accessibility. It also generally levels the playing field, with some team leaders or managers also working from a cubicle.

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Most of the fuss about cubicles is about how little space is assigned to each worker. With companies trying to maximize space, the envisioned flexible workspaces become cramped and impersonal. Having more cubicles means more noise and distraction and therefore less work done.

But really…

Despite all the fuss about cubicles, on how little space and privacy they offer, even more privacy and space is lost in open offices. Open offices give us less space. A study by the International Facility Management Association shows, that workers now work in smaller spaces than they were 2010, from 225 sq feet in 2010 down 35 square feet to 190 sq feet in 2013. And open offices are one of the reasons why privacy is at an all time low, with 74% of people surveyed by Harvard Business Review are more concerned now of their privacy than a decade ago.

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Open offices require teams or groups to share a table or workspace. Concentration is also at an all time low, with only half of western workers saying they are able to concentrate despite the noise and distractions. Job performance is an illusion with open spaces, and only a sense of privacy improves it. A study published in the Ergonomics journal has also found that those who work in open offices have higher rates of sick leaves.  Infection travels faster in groups than when you can control your personal environment.

While the growing trend is to redesign office spaces from cubicles to open spaces, not every one is jumping on the band wagon. Open spaces are not the end solution to efficiency and innovation. It works for some industries, but clearly not for others. Cubicles are here to stay and more office space is still set aside for individual private spaces rather than for collaboration.

Featured photo credit: Stephen Coles via flickr.com

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Lianne Martha Maiquez Laroya

Lianne is a licensed financial advisor, Registered Financial Planner, entrepreneur and book author.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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