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The Downside Of Open Offices, Glass Walls

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Everyone likes offices that let in more natural light, with big open windows instead of cube farms, right? Yes and no, says WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger.

The benefits are undeniable. “Better communication and collaboration, lower real-estate and energy costs, more natural light and expansive outdoor views for all,” says Shellenbarger. One ad agency that moved its employees into an open floor plan last year say work gets done in a fraction of the time. Open offices are so popular that 68% of workplaces have “open plan” or “open seating” design, with desks separated by either low or no walls, according to a 2010 survey by a facilities management association.

But in a glass office, privacy goes out the, uh, window.

One consulting company boss met with a client in a stairwell to avoid having to discuss a touchy issue in a glass-walled conference room.

Others have installed switch-on opacity screens, which just signal to onlookers that “somebody is getting in trouble.”

And as Shellenbarger points out, you can’t cry in a glass office. And you definitely can’t go on Farmville if your coworker can see your screen.

To combat this privacy issue, some employers have added small private rooms for phone calls. Facebook even brought in old “superman-style” phone booths.

With 68% of offices using this style of floor plan, though, these issues are only bound to get more prominent as time goes on. Maybe that’s why so many people work from home.

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