Many companies today are jumping on the open office bandwagon to help them reach goals like better collaboration and more cost-effective use of space. They’re taking out traditional cubicles and walled-in conference rooms and opting for desks no dividers between them, and for meeting rooms with glass walls.

But there’s good and bad to every situation. So let’s lay out the good and the bad of glass conference rooms and let you decide if you’re Team Yea or Team Nay.

Pro: More Natural Light

The benefits of natural light in the workplace include better productivity and creativity, plus an uplift in the overall mood of the office. In fact, a recent study reported that office employees who received more natural light exposure during the workday saw an improvement with their sleep patterns and quality of life compared to those who received less.

When glass conference rooms replace those with solid walls or partitions, more of your employees are able to take advantage of nature’s physical and mental health benefits – not just the lucky employees who have perimeter offices.

Natural light is not only better for the wellness of employees, it also helps reduce reliance on artificial lighting. Along with that comes energy cost savings, especially if you’re able to dim the electric lights in response to the amount of daylight available to your office.

Keep in mind, though, that the best solution isn’t necessarily to flood the whole office with direct sunlight. Diffuse daylight is the way to go. So if you’re planning to remodel your office or build out a new space, consider a daylight control system. There are open-loop and closed-loop daylighting controls systems available, as well as newer technology that’s combining the two systems.

Pro: More Than One Kind of Transparency 

As you begin creating an effective workspace design, consider how glass walls can positively affect your bottom line.

Because any and everyone can see through those glass walls, employees are encouraged to work a little harder and make better use of their time. No one wants to be caught slacking off during an important meeting. Glass walls allow everyone to hold each other accountable.

There’s another subtle effect: Stretches of transparent glass project an image of openness. So if your company has a culture of transparency, glass walls give the right impression.

Con: Distractions, Distractions

We all try our hardest to not be easily distracted by people and noises, but more often than not we lose focus when we hear a strange noise or see movement in our peripheral vision. When a see-through glass wall is all that’s separating employees from the action around the rest of the office, they can see – and most likely hear – everything happening outside the meeting room. That could make them more likely to lose focus on the work issues being discussed.

It works in reverse, too. Not only can employees be distracted by seeing their coworkers moving around outside the room, they may also be aware that their coworkers could be watching them. Every stress-induced outburst, every sneeze and everything in between is on full display.

Feeling like a goldfish in a fishbowl is not going to make that challenging presentation any easier, especially for introverts.

Con: Privacy Goes Out the Window

Without any traditional walled-in rooms, you have zero privacy.

Imagine trying to have a difficult yearly review with your supervisor in a glass-walled room. It could make an already uncomfortable situation even more awkward – and perhaps even compromise HR standards of privacy.

Some companies that have adopted the open floor plan with glass-wall offices and conference rooms are now turning to frosted glass to re-introduce a measure of privacy. Others are adding smaller, private rooms to hold personal meetings or take important business calls – they’re even called “phone booths” at some companies.

More noise passes through glass walls than traditional drywall. So not only can you see everyone outside the room and they can see you, but both sides can also hear what’s going on inside and outside the meeting room. However, there are certain types of glass walls that are more soundproof.

Although some companies are making the open office work, others are staying away from this business trend. With the pluses and minuses laid out here, are you convinced one way or the other? Do the benefits of natural light and company-wide transparency outweigh the loss of focus and feeling like an animal on display at the zoo?

Photo: Office Snapshots