The Pros and Cons of an Open Plan Office You Need to Know

Category: Office Design

Open Office Design Plan

Open plan offices are the dominant office floor plan option today. In fact, approximately 70 percent of all office workers now spend their day in an open plan office, characterised by large, open spaces, which are usually shared by many employees, as opposed to the use of private rooms, cubicles and other more enclosed spaces.

However, while commercial interior designers are inundated with requests to assist with the design of open plan offices, there has also been a backlash against the layout in more recent times. In this article, we take a closer look at the open plan office, its plus points and some of the negatives associated with it, so that you can make the right decision for your office space and business.

Benefits of Open Plan Layouts

As pointed out in the Harvard Business Review, one of the main reasons why so many businesses have implemented open office plans is because they can encourage collaboration. Indeed, an open plan can allow people from different departments to easily move around the workplace and communicate with one another.

This can be particularly beneficial in work environments where creativity or outside-the-box thinking are required, because it allows employees to speak to and share ideas with other workers with a variety of expertise, rather than limiting interactions to being between those doing the same job.

"[Another] advantage is that they handle rapid changes in personnel number," says Michael O. Church, writing for Fortune. "If you're expecting 150 percent year-on-year growth in headcount, open plan offices give you more of a 'crumple zone' than traditional layouts, where you're limited by the number of individual rooms in the space."

Moreover, when working with a professional design company or office fit out specialist, an open plan design is likely to be significantly cheaper than alternatives. This is because open plan designs tend to require less space per employee, helping to maximise use of space, while the layout also removes costs associated with partitions.

Open Plan Office Criticisms

Open Plan Office Layout

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Nevertheless, the open plan office design has faced a backlash in more recent times, with a number of high-profile studies identifying problems associated with the layout. In fact, research shows that the number one frustration among employees working in open plan offices is a lack of sound privacy and this then has further repercussions.

For example, multiple studies have highlighted the fact that excessive noise levels caused by other employees talking and coming and going can lead to a decrease in employee productivity and concentration levels. This, in turn, can negatively impact business results and adversely affect the quality of work being carried out.

The drawbacks of open plan offices do not end there. A survey carried out by Canada Life Group found that those working in open plan layouts took 70 percent more sick days than people working remotely, while only 6.1 percent of those surveyed believed working in an open plan was healthy.

Furthermore, these various negatives can contribute towards a lack of overall job satisfaction, leading to increased staff turnover. This, then potentially counter-balances the savings on the design itself, by increasing the amount that needs to be spent on recruitment and training to get new staff up to speed.

Choosing the Right Office Design

Ultimately, the design of an office can have a significant effect on employees, their performance and even their health. For this reason, it is worth working with commercial interior designers to come up with a layout that best accommodates the people that work there, and the nature of the work that will be carried out there.

Open plan layouts can be ideal for workplaces where creativity, collaboration and culture are important, but are less useful in environments where concentration, sound privacy, accuracy and productivity are the priority. In many ways, the issue is less about whether open plan designs are 'good' and more about precisely who they are good for.

The decision may even depend on the make-up of a particular team. For instance, the Financial Times references evidence suggesting that open plan layouts are difficult for introverts. This suggests that it is also worth considering the personality types in a department and designing the office to suit them.

One possible solution is to work with an office fit out specialist to create a layout that includes both open plan and 'closed' office spaces and allowing employees to move freely between these spaces, depending on the task they are carrying out, their personal preference or even their mood at the time.

The Final Word

Open plan office designs are the dominant design option at present, and the layout does have advantages, especially when it comes to collaboration and cost. However, it is important to understand that there are also issues related to noise pollution, a lack of privacy and heightened stress levels.

In the end, the decision over whether or not to adopt an open plan layout is one that needs to be made based on the nature of the work that will be carried out in that specific office, the preferences of individual staff members, the priorities of the business and the amount of money or space that is available.

Posted 25th June, 2018

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