Everyone Hates the Open-Plan Office. It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

Almost three-quarters of U.S. offices are designed with an open desk plan. Microsoft Corp. has one; so does Etsy Inc.; even the General Services Administration, the government’s landlord, is pitching a wall-free model to federal agencies.

Employers love open plans because they save money—you can cram a lot more people into a space with no walls—but employees tend to hate them. Management literature churns out study after study quantifying the ravages of open plans on morale, health, and productivity. Clutter, distractions, smells, and illnesses spread quickly in a room without partitions. Hot-desking—when employees forfeit personal workstations and have to park their laptops in whatever space is available—has all the appeal of a pay-per-hour motel.

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