Conjure the office of any modern start-up and you probably have a pretty specific image in your head: online time clocks, a ping pong table, a conference room, and an open office, where employees sit together, talking together without walls impeding communication or collaboration.

The open office layout has been de rigueur for many small and mid-sized companies for years now; proponents say it fosters productivity and makes the office a more enjoyable, more social place to work. But the open office has its drawbacks too.

Some workers bemoan the lack of privacy, the lack of space, and loud environments. So is an open office right for your company?

It depends on what your company does; when an employee needs to spend a lot of time meeting with or talking to clients on the phone, traditional offices might be best. If, on the other hand, employees regularly need to work together as teams, the open format might be better. But even in that case, there are some ways to avoid common open office pitfalls. For example:

  • Make sure there’s a quiet area available where employees can talk on the phone or lock into work without distraction. Tech companies call these “coding caves,” but they’re useful for any industry.
  • Don’t crowd employees. Having enough space to work comfortably is extra important in an open office.
  • Include diverse spaces where employees can choose where they want to work. Some people might want to be right in the middle of the fray while others might want to stay off to the side. An open office doesn’t have to mean a homogeneous one.
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