What’s The Worst Thing About Working In An Open Plan Office?

What’s The Worst Thing About Working In An Open Plan Office?

A global survey into the effectiveness of open plan offices has found that most workers believe they are noisy environments that hamper productivity. Around half of respondents admitted they regularly used quiet meeting rooms or elected to work from home to avoid office racket. What do you think is the worst thing about open plan working environments?

Open plan office picture from Shutterstock

Headset manufacturer Jabra polled 11,906 office and mobile workers in Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and USA. According to the survey results, most workers find open plan offices to be distractingly noisy environments that hamper their ability to get things done due to all the extra chatter.

40 per cent of Australian respondents said they avoid phone calls altogether so as not to distract colleagues while 44 per cent said that they found people talking across the office space to be a deeply annoying distraction.

“Working in an open plan office is a great way to enhance team work, creativity and information sharing. However organisations need to make sure this increase in interaction does not impact employee productivity,” noted Jabra ANZ managing director Soren Schoennemann.

The cons of open plan offices are often highlighted by the subjects of our How I Work series, with Bitdefender’s Bogdan Botezatu the most recent respondent to take issue with these environments. Indeed, his #1 time-saving shortcut is to work from home:

“When I need to do something really important, I take a work-from-home day to do it, then return to the office for day-to-day tasks,” Botezatu said.

There’s no disputing the fact that open plan offices lead to a higher level of office hubbub. We’d also add that they stop you from slagging off people in other departments, which should be a god-given right of every office worker. In addition, there’s probably a much higher chance of getting sick. On the plus side, the large open space does make it easier to play impromptu games of office cricket.

What is the worst thing about working in an open plan office? Do any co-workers have a noisy or distracting habit that drives you up the (office) wall? Name and shame them in the comments section below!


  • The only guy with a team of young girls is fun. It get too annoying when they start chatting at high volumes about boys, makeup, sex and whinging all day. Worst thing is their makeup and hair straightening sessions. Working from home is so peaceful and productive.

  • I used to have a great job. My section had its own office. There was only 3 of us so the noise issue was not normally a problem.

    Then some smartarse extrovert got the idea our section should move out into the main open-plan area.

    My working life became hell after that. I felt like I was just part of a herd of cattle.
    The noise was so bad I could barely think. I became disoriented and very stressed out.

    Although I loved the actual work, in the end I had to quit to save my sanity.

  • Perfume! And aftershave!

    Do these people think so much of themselves that they feel the need to douse themselves with bloke/chick repellent?


      • Ha! Was thinking a similar thing.
        I have a lady in my office that used to like to take her shoes off under her desk which was located in front of mine. The smell was awful.
        I’d much prefer someones strong Perfume/Aftershave to the smell of manky feet or BO.

      • It’s not a choice of “BO or Perfume” because perfume (including cologne/aftershave) doesn’t actually do anything for BO. It’s just adds to the smell. People with BO problems need to use deodorant.

        The problem is when people drown themselves in perfume. a lot of people think that if they can’t smell perfume on themselves by the end of the day, then the smell must’ve worn off so they need to put more on next time. False! You can’t smell your perfume because your brain is really really smart and has masked it from you so that you can distinguish other smells from teh “background radiation” that is your perfume

      • Not when you get hayfever or asthma from it. Most of the spray on perfumed deodorants contain asthma triggers.

    • I once had an issue with some flowers that someone kept on their desk for a week, giving me headaches every day. I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to take them home.

  • I am all for open spaces for people to work but they really should be limited to no more than a single team or two. I work as a web developer in a space that is designed for and currently occupied by a large contact center. I often find myself working late so I can hear myself think.

    Its true what they say “Hell IS other people”

  • For those in a collaborative industry, open plan is probably a godsend. My missis works in interior design and all her projects are shared with others. She found having the working day be one endless meeting increased productivity.

    But in my industry, we schedule meetings specifically so we don’t have to spend all day chatting. Which then becomes annoying when others (in my open-plan) don’t see it that way. Up to a point I don’t mind the work-related chat as it achieves something.

    Rather, it’s the banal, irrelevant blather that pisses me off. Not only does it become a distraction but also shows how little time some people spend working while at work.

  • I work in an open plan office, there is about 15 of us in the office, ranging from 20-55 years old. im the only male in the office and the department I run (Bylaws and Complaints) requires a level of privacy sometimes which is impossible to get in this current setup. however interdepartmental exchange of information and ideas does help things get done quicker and easier. I Suppose like any situation there are pro’s and con’s.

  • my work style gets me in trouble for the wrong reasons. I don’t take long breaks. I work until I lose motivation then google or facebook for five minutes then work hard again. Even this site showed this is a great way to maintain focus and keep productivity high. My coworkers ping me for facebook, etc even though I achieve my work goals ahead of them and also, my choice personally, do extra hours without problem just because that is how public transport works for me. I have often asked for them to criticise my actual workload if they have an issue and have silenced them every time but it still goes on. I also showed them the study and cited various work places with higher productivity due to it but again the tree is focussed on rather than the forest. This busy body nature is quite normal in open plan offices where everyone becomes manager and monitor of everyone else. This is my pet peeve. I look forward to finishing my degree and being able to work (hopefully) as an academic where your work is respected not your work style judged.

    • And the bad news is: I work as an academic and we’re going open plan. It just won’t work – and our treasured books have to be on shelves on a wall where anyone can take them! My books cost me thousands and took years to build into a collection to which I regularly refer.

  • Open plan offices are cheaper to setup, and allow bosses to keep an eye on everyone – otherwise there are few advantages and lots of disadvantages. Most people work better when not distracted, and not monitored by their boss.

  • Q: What’s The Worst Thing About Working In An Open Plan Office?
    A: Working.

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