Are Open Concept Offices Better for You Than Cubicles?

Posted on by Patty Odell

There is much research and debate about what type of office space is most productive—and most healthy—for employees.

A new study from the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM) found that open concept offices make for less stressed and more active employees than cubicle-style setups, perhaps because employees can easily see one another and may interact more frequently with colleagues, Fortune reported. However, another recent study from Harvard researchers found the opposite, that workers in open spaces are less likely to interact with others than those that work in cubicles.

“Though the studies didn’t examine the exact same factors, their outcomes seem to send mixed messages, proving—if nothing else—that science has yet to give us a clear-cut verdict on open office plans,” Fortune reported.

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The OEM study looked at 231 workers in four office buildings that were fitted with movement and heart sensors for three days.

The study found that workers in “open bench” seating were more active (38 percent) at the office than those in private offices and cubicles (20 percent). Open office space was also found to be less stressful than cubicles. Furthermore, workers in “open bench” seating experienced lower perceived stress (9 percent) than those working in cubes. Interestingly, this more active environment was believed to lead to lower physiological stress outside the office (14 percent).

The OEM study concluded: “Office workstation type was related to enhanced physical activity and reduced physiological and perceived stress. This research highlights how office design, driven by office workstation type, could be a health-promoting factor.”

By contrast, the Harvard researchers looked at 52 workers from a Fortune 500 company and converted their workspace to an open floor plan. Workers were outfitted with Bluetooth-enabled badges with sensors and microphones for three weeks both before the changes and after the open office space was installed.

Fortune reported that “The results were astounding: After the switch, participants spent 73 percent less time interacting face to face, while use of email and instant messenger shot up by 67 percent and 75 percent, respectively.”


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