For decades, the open office reigned supreme, facilitating communication and promoting collegiality in workplaces around the world. Open offices tend to feel more comfortable and laid back than their cubicle equivalents, and proponents tout open dialogue and creative thinking as benefits of the scheme. Yet myriad studies alongside anecdotal evidence suggest that open office spaces are actually depriving employees of a sense of privacy and autonomy. When it comes to the open office, where’s the happy medium?

Open Offices in the Modern Workplace

Open offices emerged decades ago with the advent of knowledge work – otherwise known as “thinking for a living.” Originally imagined in the 1950’s in Hamburg, Germany, the open-office concept claimed to promote better communication, increased collaboration, and improved “idea flow” between employees.

The open office appeals for other reasons, too – employees appreciate the collective, comfortable feel that often accompanies an open layout. Culture collisions – chance encounters between employees – take place more frequently in open office settings, and are known to promote a sense of solidarity and community within the workplace.

Open offices are less expensive to design and construct, too, with fewer walls and partitions to construct and maintain. An open layout makes it easier for workers to share Internet access, copy machines, printers, and common areas. Open offices can be much easier to clean and maintain, and they offer more flexibility, too— it’s easy to move furniture to accommodate new hires, for example.

Yet employees who operate within the open office often complain about higher noise levels and more distractions. They enjoy less privacy, and don’t have as much control over the lighting, heat, and aesthetics of their space. As such, today’s employers are searching for ways to merge the collaborative, collegial aesthetic of the open office with the privacy and autonomy of the cubicle.

Dividing Your Space: The In-Between

When it comes to your workplace, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Fortunately for employers and employees alike, there are myriad ways to update an open layout with features like glass walls, moveable panels, and even different colors.

Furniture is one of the simplest and most practical ways to divide an office space. By setting out pieces in room-like arrangements, employers are able to designate set spaces within one large room. Unifying touches, like rugs, side tables, and lamps, can help to designate unique spaces, too. Tall furniture, like bookshelves, high-backed couches and chairs, and stacking cubes all work well to provide privacy and extra seating and storage, too. Private phone booths can provide workers with a sense of seclusion and escape, and architectural glass walls help to soundproof an area without closing it off completely. Half-walls offer flexibility and privacy, while sound masking panels help to mitigate the hustle and bustle so common to the open office layout. Colored spaces help to distinguish different areas – the lounge, the kitchen, the conference space, and so on.

Diving the Space: Where to Begin?

When it comes to dividing up the office space, it pays to consult with an expert. Choose a furniture dealer with a focus on interior design, ideally one who collaborates with designers, architects, and general contractors. A professional will be able to assess your space’s strengths and weaknesses, suggesting holistic ways to meet your organization’s needs. The most productive, inspired office spaces offer a little bit of something for everyone: open areas for spontaneous collaboration, and private nooks for introspection. Fortunately, when it comes to diversifying your workplace, the possibilities are endless.