Blog 7

There has been a recent turn away from cubicles in offices and towards more open concept office designs. Guidelines such as “5 Characteristics of New Office Space Design” are becoming extremely common. These guidelines advocate for open plans and collaboration spaces, with no mention of quiet space. Open design is obviously more aesthetically pleasing; however, a byproduct of a more open layout is more background noise. Background noise can have seriously detrimental effects on worker productivity. A recent study on the effects of background noise on both introverts and extroverts found that “performance was lessened across all cognitive tasks in the presence of background sound (music or noise) compared to silence”  (Cassidy & MacDonald, 2007). This is a major concern because often times when people are distracted by background noise they will put on music instead. These people do not realize that listening to music also requires cognitive work (North & Hargreaves, 1999).

Above is a good design for an office space

I do not suggest that we fully turn back to cubicles. Humans are indeed social beings, so there does need to be social spaces in offices (Fidler, 2012). As a solution companies should have both silent work areas and meeting areas for more collaborative work. This will allow workers to focus but also have a place to take breaks. To the left is a design I created of an ideal office for a fairly small company.

If an office space is unable to be easily renovated, companies could supply workers with earplugs or soundproofing headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM2 is an example of a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones are adjustable so that they can fit different head shapes. They also feature cushions around the ears so they are comfortable to wear. Furthermore, the headphones can be used with and without music so that when someone isn’t trying to work their hardest they can relax and enjoy their music. Finally, they do not require any wires to function, so the person can move freely around their office space.

The above image shows the Sony WH-1000XM2, a good pair noise-cancelling headphones.
Source: Sony WH-1000XM2, Sony Corporation.

Unfortunately these headphones also are rather costly, retailing for around $300. It may not appear to be initially beneficial for a company to purchase these for their employees; however, if they increase worker productivity I believe the initial costs could be made up for.


Cassidy, G., & MacDonald, R. (2007). The effect of background music and background noise on the task performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music, 35(3), 517-537.

Fidler, K. (2012). 5 Characteristics of New Office Space Design. Work Design Magazine. Retrieved from

North, A., & Hargreaves, D. (1999). Music and driving game performance. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 40(4), 285-292.

4 thoughts on “Blog 7

  1. This is a great post. I worked in an office this summer that was open in the middle, cubicles in the middle, and offices on the outside. I think your suggestions for fixing the issue are excellent solutions. I was surprised to read about the detriments of background music, maybe I should start working in silence…

  2. II really enjoyed reading your post because it provided a different perspective for me. I associated open workspaces with the opportunity for collaboration amongst coworkers, but I didn’t realize the possible problem of distractions such as background noise. I also really appreciated how you gave some alternatives and that your alternatives included things that could be combined with open concepts, rather than simply doing away with them.

  3. An open floor plan is aesthetically pleasing like you said, but it’s also a cheaper and a more versatile option. Cubicles are good if every individual needs to have a set space to keep their printed work but technology has allowed us to store our information on our laptops and not in files. Because of this portability, your solution for silent work studies as well as meeting rooms that employees are free to switch between is a great one.

  4. I could not be happier that offices are doing away with cubicles in favor of a more open and interactive work places. Ever since watching “The Incredibles” I have dreaded the idea of working in an office space because I associated it with being tucked away in a little cubicle. Doing away with cubicles with have an impact I believe on worker happiness, but I think this change may be able to have a deeper psychological impact on workers. Previously, everybody coveted that nice corner office space or just their own office space in general. It was a huge step up from a cubicle and gave the employee who had the office an elevated status whether deserved or not. This type of inner competition and downgrading of those without an office space can only lead to decreased mental health for the people that never get to the corner office. By eliminating the cubicles I think people will be able to take more pride in themselves creating a greater overall happiness in the business world. There’s reasons most successful business people are such bland, boring, robotic stiffs and I am glad that changes are being made to workplace. Hopefully these changes will help people!

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