According to a report in the Harvard Business Review on office space: “People need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas or process information. [T]hen they come together as a group to build on those ideas or develop a shared point of view; and then they break apart again to take next steps.”

In the 80s and 90s people grew disillusioned with cubicles. Workspace design researchers found in 1980 that 85% of people said they required quiet areas where they could focus, but only 52% had access to them. Organisations responded by installing cubicles; often with high partitions. Then, in the late 1990s there was a reversal in attitudes with only 23% of employees saying that they craved extra privacy and 50% who wanted office space that allowed employees easier access to one another.

Barbara T. Armstrong, commercial furniture and design specialist asked the question: “How can two opposing ideas—the need for collaboration and the need for privacy—be realized in a single design solution?” The answer she said, was “Choice”. She likes that the open office layout allows for collaboration, but suggests that the atmosphere is completely inadequate for work that isn’t interactive, such as writing.

The conclusion seems to be that the open office, by itself, is not the answer. When people asked for more privacy they were presented with the cubicle. When they asked for more interaction they were given the open office layout. The ideal balance most probably lies somewhere in the middle.