Are Cubicles More Productive than Open Offices?

The Turnkey Approach Is Savvy

When it comes to office design, the big question is, are cubicles actually more productive than an open office concept? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is quite possibly both! Here are the facts on how these two layouts affect focus, collaboration, and ultimately productivity, without any fluff.

Key Takeaways

  • Productivity Factor: Cubicles may improve productivity by offering privacy and reducing distractions that open office spaces can’t quite achieve.
  • The Financial Aspect: An open office costs less, but cubicles offer a balance of cost, privacy, and productivity, despite potentially lower flexibility in office layout.
  • Well-being with Hybrid Designs: Employee well-being is a key factor in office design, and a modern hybrid design seeks to balance privacy, collaboration, and employee choice.

Cubicles vs Open Offices: Productivity Factors

cubicle vs open office

In office environments, cubicles and open offices often stand at opposing ends. Some believe that the open office space promotes collaboration, and others argue that the cubicles provide an environment more conducive to focus and productivity.

The open plan office design is frequently promoted as a contemporary approach to boost collaboration. However, is it as straightforward as it seems? Many studies have shown that transitioning to open office setups can actually lead to a decrease in face-to-face interactions. This may seem counterintuitive, but consider this: In a cubicle environment, office workers have their own semi-private space, shielded by cubicle walls. This offers a level of privacy that can enhance productivity.

Conversely, the open floor layout in an open office environment may result in elevated noise levels, potentially harming concentration and productivity. The lack of partitions in open office spaces can make it difficult for employees to focus, with the constant buzz of activity serving as a continuous distraction.

Privacy and Focus

a workers cubicle with two computer monitors

In a private office or enclosed cubicle, employees have a space to call their own, which can be necessary for maintaining focus and productivity. The lack of privacy in a shared office space, on the other hand, can lead to lower job satisfaction due to issues such as noise and worsened relationships with coworkers.

The opportunity to conduct private conversations in cubicles may also boost productivity. In an open office, employees may feel self-conscious or hesitant to engage in discussions due to the lack of privacy, potentially stifling communication and collaboration.

Noise Reduction

Noise reduction also plays a major role in enhancing employees’ productivity in a workspace. In an open office design, the lack of barriers between workstations often leads to high levels of background noise. Conversely, cubicles provide a quieter workspace by decreasing noise levels. The walls of a cubicle act as a barrier, blocking out much of the background noise and allowing employees to concentrate on their tasks without being disturbed.

Personal Space

People’s need for some personal space is inherent, at least for most people. In an open office, employees share the same room, with little to no barriers between them. That lack of personal space can be detrimental to their productivity.

Alternatively, cubicles offer employees that degree of personal space that doesn’t exist in an open office. Productivity increases with this added sense of ownership. Plus, it positively contributes to the relationship between employees and the company.

However, it’s important to note that not everyone works the same way. While some people require more privacy to concentrate, other truly thrive in open spaces. Yet even then, people often create barriers in one way or another, such as using noise-cancelling headphones. When all is said and done, the absence of personal space can harm productivity, and cubicles can enhance productivity and job satisfaction by offering that space.

The Financial Aspect: Cost Savings and Efficiency

Open offices, with their space-optimized design, offer significant cost savings due to reduced expenses related to rent, electricity, and excess office furniture. Conversely, a cubicle layout does offer privacy at lower associated costs, and companies can adapt the office layout to accommodate new employees or different work demands without significant additional costs.

It’s not all about the bottom line. An open office space is more cost-effective on the surface, but the potential decrease in productivity due to distractions and lack of privacy can lead to indirect costs in the long run. Having one’s own office could help solve these issues.

Both open offices and cubicle layouts carry their own financial consequences. While an open office may offer cost savings and efficient space utilization, cubicles provide a balance of privacy and cost-effectiveness that can increase productivity.

Space Utilization

In an open office, there is a centralized workspace for all employees, potentially increasing cost-effectiveness. However, a Harvard Business School study revealed that an open office can actually reduce coworker collaboration by up to 70%. This suggests that while an open office space might seem to promote collaboration due to the lack of physical barriers, they may actually hinder effective communication.

On the other hand, employees in closed offices haven’t reported problems with colleague communication. This suggests that while the open floor plan of the open office might seem more modern and collaborative, it may not necessarily promote effective communication.

Even though open office spaces may appear more space and cost-efficient, the potential drop in collaboration could result in indirect costs in the long run. On the other hand, cubicles and closed offices, with their balance of privacy and accessibility, can promote effective communication and collaboration, enhancing overall productivity.

Office Layout Flexibility

office layout with greenery

Flexibility is another factor to consider for the layout of an office. Open office layouts are more flexible and support the use of shared spaces, which can be adapted quickly for different activities and team configurations.

In contrast, cubicles can hinder the ability to adapt to changing team sizes and may require significant reconfiguration to accommodate new employees or different work demands. Regardless, the presence of individual offices in a cubicle layout can provide employees with a sense of ownership and control over their workspace.

Employee Well-being: Health and Job Satisfaction

Studies have shown that open/shared office environments have been linked to increased illness and sick leave among employees. Conversely, employees in open bench seating exhibit higher physical activity levels than those in private offices and cubicles. This suggests that open office designs may promote a more active lifestyle, potentially leading to improved health and well-being.

However, cubicles provide privacy and personal space, which can enhance employees’ psychological well-being and increase their focus. This suggests that the privacy and personal space offered by cubicles can have a positive impact on employee well-being, too, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.

Social Interaction and Collaboration

An open office lacks physical barriers and are often touted as promoting increased collaboration due to the high visibility and accessibility of employees. Technological advancements and the evolution of workspaces have focused on open and flexible designs to ease collaboration.

Employees in open offices also feel more connected to their coworkers, enabling them to work more efficiently. However, the lack of privacy in these environments can also lead to distractions and decreased productivity.

Benefits of Hybrid Office Designs

hybrid office setting in green

There is a new and modern alternative to the open-office-vs-cubicle-layout debate—go hybrid. A hybrid office design can balance privacy and collaborative areas. Such a layout can heighten employees’ sense of belonging and control over their work experience, leading to increased job satisfaction.

Adopting hybrid office layouts can also lead to reduced operational costs by minimizing the necessity for a large number of permanently assigned desks and making efficient use of available space.

These designs also offer employees the flexibility to choose their preferred workspace, whether it’s a private office for focused work or a collaborative space for team activities. This flexibility can lead to higher productivity and job satisfaction, as employees can choose the environment that best suits their work style and tasks.


The choice between cubicles and open offices is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The best office layout depends on a variety of factors, including the work style and preferences of the employees, the nature of the tasks performed, and the financial constraints of the company. You should consider all these factors to create an office environment that maximizes productivity and employee satisfaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cubicles actually more productive than an open office space?

Cubicles can increase productivity due to added privacy and reduced noise, while open offices may promote more collaboration and social interaction. It ultimately depends on the specific needs and work style of the team.

How does the office layout impact employee health?

The office layout can impact employee health significantly. Open/shared office environments have been linked to increased illness and sick leave among employees. Cubicles, however, improve their psychological well-being and focus. It’s important to consider these factors when designing an office space.

How can workspace customization impact productivity?

Customizing your workspace can promote individuality and creativity, leading to a more enjoyable and productive work environment.

What are hybrid office designs?

Hybrid office designs balance privacy and collaboration, offering spaces for both group collaboration and individual focus. This helps create a more flexible and inclusive work environment.

Can the office layout impact job satisfaction?

Absolutely, the office layout directly influences employee health and job satisfaction, so you should pay careful attention to office design.

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