Almost nine out of ten business leaders see an open plan office as a security threat

21 April 2016

The security of data and IT systems is one of the main concerns facing Australian businesses today. Research by leading specialist recruitment company Robert Half found that 86% of Australian Chief Information Officers (CIOs) see potential threats in having an open plan office layout.

Every organisation faces a constant battle to protect its IT infrastructure from external threats. Internal security threats, provoked by the growing popularity of open plan office spaces, are causing additional concerns. Today’s dynamic open workspace can involve communal standing desks, walking desks, and the concept of ‘hot desking’, which shy away from the traditional cubicle walls. Enclosed spaces have been replaced with work stations that are either separated by a small divider screen, or not at all, which can have an impact on personal privacy but also corporate security. 

The concern is greatest among IT leaders of small companies, with 94% concerned about the level of security available in open plan work areas compared to 85% of medium companies, and 79% of large companies.

David Jones, Senior Managing Director Robert Half Asia Pacific said: “Open plan layouts can be cost effective for businesses – and can promote communication and collaboration between employees – but the key downside to this is the increased potential for IT security breaches.”

“The level of threat may vary according to the sensitivity of information employees in an open plan area are working with. Nonetheless it is a risk that cannot, and should not, be discounted altogether.”

Key concerns

CIOs – across all businesses – have different concerns about the implications of open plan offices in terms of security, and protecting corporate information. Today’s workspace designs have become so open that in some situations they are starting to lose practicality, while also impacting employee confidentiality. 

More than one-third (37%) of Australian CIOs are primarily worried about colleagues or external parties overhearing confidential or sensitive information, followed by 35% who refer to visual security. An open-plan office also may increase the risk of devices, documents or even personal property being stolen.
Which of the following is the primary concern you have regarding open plan offices?

Audible security (employees, third party vendors etc. overhearing sensitive information) 37%
Visual security (employees, third party vendors etc. seeing sensitive information) 35%
Increased risk of device theft 21%
Increased risk of document theft 6%
Other 1%

Source: independent survey commissioned by Robert Half among 100 Australian CIOs.

David Jones said: “Many companies are introducing additional security measures to help mitigate this risk. Key steps to introduce include developing clear security guidelines and policies, allocating responsibility for security, and ensuring all staff have at least a basic understanding of the organisation’s security issues and policies.” 

“Providing continuous staff training for employees in IT security so they are up to date with the latest activity is an efficient way for companies to create the necessary security awareness and to prevent putting customer and personal information at risk.”


About the research

The annual study is developed by Robert Half and conducted by an independent research company, surveying 100 Australian CIOs/CTOs in Australia. This survey is part of the international workplace survey, a questionnaire about job trends, talent management and trends in the workplace. 

Contact Us


Gabrielle Nagy  
Public Relations Manager, Asia Pacific
Tel: 02 8028 7751
Email: [email protected]

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