Biggest Open Office Design Complaints: 14 Ways To Solve Them

Four main problems with open office design concepts and what you can do to solve them without resorting to installing a cubicle maze.

Jack Anzarouth, founder of Digital Ink Marketing | Courtesy Photo
Jack Anzarouth, founder of Digital Ink Marketing | Courtesy Photo

The highly praised open office design has been around for decades. It is still the preferred office plan layout for fledgling startups–if they choose to have an office, that is.

With ad hoc meetings going on all over the place and creative collaboration veritably dripping from the walls, this office space design was meant to break down barriers and allow for free flowing productivity.

However, a recent Staples survey reveals nearly 40 percent of employee respondents said their open office space design actually caused distractions. Compare this to employees in closed offices where only 28 percent said they are met with distractions.


Distracted at work? Open office space layouts could be the culprit

People who work in open concept offices tend to spend more time away from the office working remotely when compared to their closed office counterparts. Workers in open offices spend about 64 percent of their working time in the office as compared to 75 percent of working time for people in closed offices.

While remote working is certainly fashionable these days, employees should do it for the right reasons, not because they feel forced out of their own workplace.

If you work in an open office design concept, you may want to poll your own employees to see if they experience excessive distractions, which can directly lead to decreased productivity.


Four open office design complaints and how to solve them

Here are four main issues with open office design concepts and what you can do to solve them without resorting to installing a cubicle maze:

Excessive office noise

Unsurprisingly, the biggest distraction reported in the Staples survey is too much noise in open office layouts. While most people seem to be able to concentrate on their own task and ignore other people visually, blocking out noise is more difficult.

What to do about it:

  • Provide noise cancelling headphones to your employees so they can listen to music or whatever else they want to while they work.
  • Pump white noise into the office to mask distracting noises.
  • Designate “quiet zones” behind some kind of barrier or in a separate room where employees can go to work in peace.
  • Designate “noise zones” in other rooms where people can talk freely without having to worry about distracting others.

Too many impromptu meetings

Perhaps the No. 1 reason companies love their open office designs is because they’re meant to facilitate ad hoc meetings, collaboration and creativity. If inspiration strikes, employees don’t have to set up a meeting or go knock on a door. They can just waltz over and have an impromptu meeting.

However, the ease with which people can have these ad hoc meetings means there might be too many meetings going on, distracting employees and their neighbors.

What to do about it:

  • Make sure to announce regular meetings often enough that people don’t feel the need to have ad hoc meetings all the time.
  • Have an “open floor” at the end of each meeting so anyone who has something to say gets a chance to say it.
  • After larger meetings, give people the opportunity to break out into smaller groups who may need to talk about things with each other that don’t pertain to the larger group as a whole.

Bad office design layout

Your open office layout might contribute to lost productivity. People who require a high level of concentration could be in a high traffic area. Others who are constantly on the phone might be seated too close to people who need to engage in highly focused work for most of the day.

Office layout problems will exacerbate the issues people already have with open office concepts.

What to do about it:

  • Study your layout, bring in some fresh perspective and check to see if departments that need to collaborate frequently are near each other and departments that need a high level of concentration are away from high traffic areas, etc.
  • Embrace partitions. “Open” is not synonymous with “partitionless.” Maybe you do need some barriers around your office. That doesn’t mean a cubicle for everyone, but maybe a bit of a wall between departments isn’t so bad.
  • Consult your employees about it and get feedback.

Personal grievances

Another distraction the Staples survey deals with working near someone who is visibly upset. Two employees may dislike each other, or an employee may deal with personal issues outside of work. The result is a heightend emotional state while in the office.

Lately, there has been much talk of how women in open office concepts can feel exposed to gawking colleagues. This, obviously, can lead to exacerbated problems too.

What to do about it

  • Although you shouldn’t feel the need to cater to all employees in terms of their personal grievances with co-workers, be cognizant of the more acrimonious relationships and try your best to keep those people separate.
  • If possible, consider creating a space where people can work undisturbed if they are having particularly bad personal problems outside of work (or allow them to work remotely while they deal with the issue).
  • Consider covering therapy in your health benefits package.
  • Poll the female staff in your office to see if they feel “on display.” You may be able to design a layout where they are afforded a bit more privacy.


Open office design has many advantages, but like anything, there are pros and cons. By addressing the cons you find in your own open office design, you can boost productivity and make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.

Jack Anzarouth, a former Marketing Director for a variety of brands, opened Digital Ink Marketing in September of 2016. The full-service boutique digital marketing agency serves businesses in the New York area and beyond. Connect with @digital_ink_ny on Twitter.


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