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UNDERSTANDING YOUR TEAM: Challenges with Open Plan Office Spaces

Open plan office layouts were introduced to improve collaboration and help productivity, however for some employees this environment is not optimal.

Open plan office layouts were introduced and widely accepted with the sole intention and expectation that the new design would improve collaboration and help productivity amongst teams where shared information is imperative. An added bonus has been that many occupiers have been able to create efficiencies with this layout, decreasing Net Lettable Area and reducing overheads in rent.

For many businesses, this strategy has achieved its goals around efficiency and collaboration, but as with anything, there are exceptions to the rule, and in this case they’re not all that unwarranted. This article is a brief insight into the complaints made by occupiers of open plan offices, and some food for thought before you commit your staff to a new premises.

From the perspective of a business owner, staff happiness and productivity are two factors that often go hand in hand, and office space environment is generally not considered as a major contributing aspect in the equation.

Through conducted surveys, main concerns raised about open plan office space often includes things such as:

– Lack of privacy;

– Lack of confidentiality (visual and audio);

– Too many distractions; and,

– A lack of individuality in working habits.


Many people are inherently private but may choose to operate some personal matters either from their work computers or during working hours and, lacking somewhere to escape to in a reasonable proximity, are unlikely to appreciate having to share their lives with all co-workers. From the perspective of management, a counter to this point can be that enforceable accountability is sacrificed to allow employees such a comfort. Certain individuals may be highly accountable for their own productivity, whereas others may need to be watched a little closer. Each management team will need to use trial and error to find the balance between privacy and individual accountability.


In certain industries, confidentiality is important not just from the eyes and ears of clients visiting the office, but also amongst employees who are guarding the sensitive information of their clients. Whilst many traditional open plan office spaces can easily address the issue of visiting clients, having to cater for internal confidentiality will likely require the introduction of individual offices or inclusion of easily accessible quiet rooms.


Distractions in the office add up in lost time very quickly – saying hello to everyone each morning; some lunchtime small talk; banter about the night’s TV show/sport/event. More and more we see coffee shops being utilised as another workstation or another meeting room, just in order that employees can escape the near-constant flow of unneeded stimulus. Having an office layout of entirely individual offices will not remove this altogether, but will predominantly mitigate the open plan office’s potentially negative influence on productivity. (This option, as with any, would suit some business and not others).


Each individual arranges their desk, their filing cabinet and their space differently. Providing each and all with the same style of workstation for the sake of parity also removes all individuality and opportunity to create their preferred environment. There is an argument for providing multiple working environments throughout the office, allowing all employees to work as they require.

Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the individuals within the team/s and how they need to operate on a micro (their own desk) and macro (within a pod of desks, or, their own office) scale. However, it is not practical nor affordable to cater to absolutely every staff member’s preferences. Proactive business owners looking to capitalise on the Brisbane market will use incentive conditions to their absolute advantage and invest additional time in the design of their new fit out.

Our general recommendation would be to provide a variety of quiet spaces/rooms within your tenancy, or, as is possible in some buildings, make use of a shared space that the owner has made available to tenants of their building. Quiet spaces built into your tenancy will do well to counter three of the primary concerns of open plan offices – privacy, confidentiality, and, distractions. Providing individuality is not particularly common amongst office design, but an easier integration may be to offer up the option to staff of a sit-to-stand desk or an L-Shaped desk, as opposed to a standard linear desk.

Caden are in constant communication with design and construct firms at the forefront of office space configuration – get in touch to ensure you are partnered with the appropriate firm for your business’s needs.

Not sure how much office space you need? Our calculator could help.