Open Offices: Once a Design Darling, Now a Beacon for Burglars

Despite their trendiness with the tech crowd, the open-air office has been criticized in recent years for its lack of privacy and easy distractions. But now, however, there might be a new reason to eschew this set-up: it’s a magnet for thieves.

San Francisco’s tech startups and Financial District businesses, for instance, have seen a rash of burglaries in recent months, and they all have the open floor plan office in common as a setting. One business saw several thousand dollars in electronics stolen, and another caught a woman stealing from them on a security camera.

Open offices became popular in recent years to provide a more collaborative space for workers. Some of them don’t even require assigned seating, but as a result, they contain minimal security for employees’ personal items.

And while an office should be an inspiring environment for employees to flourish creatively, it should also look professional and provide security for those employees. The difficulty occurs, however, when employees don’t have anywhere to store their belongings — including personal laptops and tablets — during the workday.

And burglars (those who aren’t actual employees) can use a variety of tactics to blend in when robbing a business, from dressing like other workers to donning disguises to shield their identities. Even restaurants aren’t safe: a recent thief in Orlando hid in the ceiling of an establishment before stealing a credit card machine and $160 in coins during an overnight raid.

One solution, according to expert architects interviewed by Co. Design, is to monitor access to an office building or other type of business. Use card access to get into a building or to different floors, for instance.

Another method for protecting departments more prone to keeping sensitive data, like legal or HR, would be to install an extra layer of glass in its doors and windows. Installing lockers for laptops or other materials could help, too — but it would also make these buildings feel more like high school than an office environment.

No office can be completely secure, however. One business owner told Co. Design that his company was robbed in the early evening by men in masks, who took computers and other tech devices right in front of terrified employees.

Armed robberies can still occur in any business, and it’s not just the value of the stolen hardware that thieves are banking on. The data on those hard drives is often worth even more.

Whether the open office is to blame or not remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it may be best to limit the amount of personal belongings taken to work or left sitting out.

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