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Is there evidence to suggest that certain office layouts are better than others for productivity?

Which of these three (and possibly others) are most beneficial to a company, in terms of employee productivity:

  • cubicles
  • small offices (say 1–3 people each) or
  • open-plan offices (typically 10–20 people)?

Has anyone studied this?

(I've worked in small and open offices and find them useful in that I can speak with colleagues directly, but if two colleagues are having a conversation close by, it is hard not to be distracted. I've never worked in a cubicle, but I would imagine it is easier to go off interneting for an hour without anybody else noticing.)


2 Answers 2


I am working in a company that moved 3 times. We had 2 different setup :

  1. 5-6 people per office. This seems to work fine. It was a team per office (SW team in one office, HW team in another, etc).
  2. all in one big office (current setup). This setup is bad (in my opinion). The sales people are very noisy. People are walking by. Distraction all over.

Try to group people within the same team. It depends on how big teams are, but they should be close, and the number of people in the office should be small enough not to distract each other.


According to Norbert & Diane Schmitt's academic text, jobs that require teamwork (increasingly common) are best performed in an open office.

Quote below with my emphasis:

How does a redesigned work space positively affect employee productivity? Studies suggest that work space, by itself, doesn't have a substantial motivational impact on people; rather, it makes certain behaviors easier or harder to perform. In this way, employee effectiveness is enhanced or reduced. More specifically, evidence shows that work space designs that increase employee contact, comfort, and flexibility are likely to positively influence motivation and productivity.

For instance, Amoco Corporation in Denver reported a 25 percent decrease in product cycle time (the time required to make its products), a 75 percent decrease in formal meeting time, an 80 percent reduction in duplicated files, and a 44 percent reduction in overall space costs after offices were redesigned to facilitate teamwork. Based on the evidence to date, an approach that matches office space to the sophistication of the work required is probably best. Jobs that are complex and require high degrees of concentration are likely to be made more difficult by noise and constant interruptions. Such jobs are best done in closed offices.

But most jobs don't require quiet and privacy. In fact, quite the contrary, jobs today increasingly require regular interaction with others to achieve maximum productivity. This is probably best achieved in an open office setting.

  • 3
    Seems about right, our AP/AR departments are very open and involve lots of talking between employees. In IT we have cubicles which allow us to focus on tasks or take calls more easily without interrupting others, but interaction is still easier than moving between offices.
    – Rarity
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 16:51
  • There are jobs that require both collaboration and concetration, depending on what you are tasked with at the moment. I'm software quality engineer, and some tasks require pairing with programmers, talking to the customer and other staholders on the phone or alike, while designing and programming tests requires a lot of concentration.
    – dzieciou
    Commented May 8, 2013 at 21:00

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