Open Office vs. Cubicles: Which Workspace is Right for You?

Feb 29th 2024

Deciding what type of office space will work best for your organization often means deciding between cubicles and an open office environment. We’ll explore the top pros and cons of each, with recommendations for making decisions.

Planning and creating the ideal office space for your organization will depend on the needs of your company, the roles of your employees, as well as aesthetic considerations. And while open office formats seem all the rage right now, the approach doesn’t always work for every business or employee.

First, some definitions: An open office emphasizes a communal environment, favoring shared workspaces with few barriers or segregated offices. This plan takes advantage of large open spaces, often with rows of tables or desks with nothing dividing them. In a cubicle office layout, teams and individuals are given personal space and privacy with cubicles or fixed and movable walls.

The open office layout

There’s a lot to think about if you’re considering an open office plan. An open office plan can encourage collaboration, but recent studies suggest they can also discourage interaction, increase distractions, and impact productivity. Before switching to an open office plan, consider the pros and cons.

Advantages of an open office

1. Flexible and cost-effective

Open office layouts can be rearranged as teams and the organization change. This is one of the reasons it’s popular with startups, which can experience accelerated growth (and sometimes contraction) and changes in company structure. It’s also thought to be economical, allowing companies to spend less on construction and divided spaces and more on equipment, technology, and décor.

2. Communication and collaboration

With no barriers in the workspace, the purported promise of an open office layout is greater collaboration, communication, and a team environment. With few barriers between employees, conversations can be easier to initiate, fostering a sense of teamwork and transparency.

3. Modern aesthetics

Most open office spaces lend themselves to a modern, trendy design, allowing them to be decorated in a variety of ways to stimulate the senses, avoiding the cold, fluorescent environments of days gone by.

Disadvantages of an open office

1. Increased noise and distractions

With few barriers and no separation in a workspace, there is little to muffle noise and extraneous conversations. The amount of stimulation and distractions are higher in an open office, which can lead to a lack of focus and decreased productivity. You can help reduce noise levels in an open environment with acoustic panels and partitions. Roles that require deep concentration, such as software development, or have frequent phone calls, such as sales and customer support, will require other solutions.

2. Lack of privacy

It can be challenging for employees to have a private conversation or compose a sensitive email in an open office. With no individual offices or workspaces, employees are more exposed and may feel that proximity to others is intrusive. Offering privacy pods, cubicles, and dedicated spaces for phone calls and deeper work will help. Keep in mind that roles that require privacy, such as legal, finance, and human resources, aren’t well suited to an entirely open office.

3. Health concerns

Without cubicles or barriers in a workplace, germs can spread unimpeded, allowing colds and flu to infect more of your team more quickly. Post-pandemic, it’s even more important to consider the health of employees, particularly those who may be at higher risk for more serious consequences if they contract illnesses.

Office plans with cubicles

Although cubicles have sometimes been the subject of ridicule in pop culture, there are distinct advantages to providing dedicated spaces for employees to work. Modern cubicle designs also combat some of the perceived downsides.

Advantages of cubicles

1. Improved focus and productivity

Physical walls help absorb and minimize noise and reduce visual distractions. Compared to an open office, individual cubicle workspaces can help employees focus on the task at hand and increase their productivity.

2. Privacy and personalization

Cubicles provide a greater feeling of privacy without complete isolation. For phone calls, concentration, or work on issues that require discretion, cubicles offer enough closed space to make working with secure information or on sensitive topics much easier. Cubicles also provide a sense of ownership and a way for employees to express themselves with family photos, decorations, or artwork.

3. Organization and storage

Work and personal items are more readily stored and accessed leading to a more organized workspace for both the individual and the office at large.

Disadvantages of cubicles

1. Reduced collaboration and communication

Cubicle walls are thought to limit interaction and collaboration, and this might be true if frequent collaboration is critical for the business. Lower cubicle walls are increasingly popular and a great solution since they facilitate easy interactions and a greater sense of openness.

2. Less natural light

Cubicles that aren’t close to a window may have less natural light to fill the space. To increase natural light, consider lower cubicle walls or cubicle panels with windows to let the light disperse more easily.

3. Cost

A full-fledged floor plan with cubicles is considered expensive, with fewer employees per square foot and more furnishings. Yet affordable solutions are available that don’t require the expense of specialists to plan and crews to install, which dramatically increases the expense.

Are cubicles or an open office layout right for your organization?

Your organization’s focus and priorities will come into play when planning the workspace, layout, and furnishings.

Consider the culture you want to create along with the type of work that needs to be done. Are continuous communication and collaboration critical, or will employees need quiet and focus to complete their work? Some businesses that gravitate toward an open office layout include startups, communication and marketing firms, and non-profits. Businesses that benefit from cubicles include tax and accounting firms, banks, law firms, or any business that would benefit from a quieter environment for greater privacy and concentration.

Regardless of your type of business, you will have situations where the employee role will dictate the type of environment needed. Do you have a customer support, call center, or an inside sales team? You may need an area with dedicated workspaces and cubicles to help these employees hear callers clearly and mitigate noise for others. Software engineers, human resource personnel, accounting and finance, and legal teams may also need the focus and privacy and focus that enclosed spaces and cubicles afford.

Hybrid office plans are flexible and increasingly popular

If you want a modern aesthetic and the feeling of open space but need to offer a degree of privacy, a low or half-partitioned office layout is a good compromise. It delivers the benefits of both the cubicle and open office layout using low cubicle panels. This type of design helps maximize natural light and gives employees privacy when seated along with openness and the ability to easily communicate. And even if full-height cubicle walls are required by certain roles and functions, you can maximize the feeling of space and light with windowed panels and orientation to the outside environment.

If you want to be able to easily adapt your space as your needs change, consider cubicles that can be flexibly reconfigured along with comfortable communal spaces that can be easily moved to support collaboration and a casual environment for a variety of work.

If you determine that a fully open office is right for your organization, you’ll still need to address the need for private phone calls, conversations, and team meetings or huddles. Privacy pods or cubicles should be included in your planning, as well as portable partitions or moveable walls for instant meeting spaces.

Versare has office furniture solutions that can help you adapt your space to a diverse and changing workforce. Shop our solutions, give us a call at 855-323-8126, or email to get started now.