Open plan offices have been quite trendy over the past couple of years. The concept arose from the ideas that employees will be more industrious if they work together, rather than being separated by thick office walls or cubicles. Scores of tech firms will tell you about how efficiently workspaces have enhanced team collaboration.
However, in the last couple of months there has been a war on the open plan layout. More professionals are speaking out against the absence of walls and privacy, declaring the concept a feeding ground for distractions, rather than collaboration. Still, others see the cubicle – together with its upscale brother, the corner office – as passé and obsolete as the fax machine.
While the open plan versus cubicle debate still rages on, the decision really comes down to the sort of work you and your team handle, as well as the office dynamic you are trying to achieve.
“If we are to make offices more effective, we must acknowledge that ultimately, design comes out of adapting individual needs for a specific purpose and at best, can create inviting spaces that reflect a company’s own ethos.” – Evan Raw, ArchDaily
When the Open Plan Concept Actually Works
For some organizations an open workspace makes a lot of sense, particularly if the organization values constant collaboration and innovation. Employees can work together to find solutions, arrive at decisions quicker, as well as bring solutions to the market more quickly. The open layout facilitates this in the following ways:
Open Communication: Without walls, employees have the opportunity to talk to their colleagues in near proximity. The open plan promotes conversation among employees, and allows individuals to seek out advice and help from each other. The constant intermingling creates a sense of camaraderie amid personnel, and also improves the flow of information within a team. If a company’s work relies on social interaction, such as the collaboration of a software developer and a designer, the open layout makes sense.
Collaboration: The open office layout makes group input easier. Colleagues can seek each other out for advice or assistance without having to schedule a formal meeting or knock on doors. In addition to open communication, increased exposure of all individuals also means that everyone’s up-to-date regarding projects and deadlines.
No Department division and “Corner Office” Status Symbol: The open office layout set-up facilitates the arrangement of teams by projects rather than departments. This eliminates the rigidness of departmental organization, and flattens out the perceived office hierarchy. For highly collaborative teams, this can be a huge asset to the company, as employees feel more comfortable speaking up and contributing opinions within a group setting. This level of collaboration and open communication makes employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise.
“I think if a company is going to make the move to an open layout, it’s important to commit to the idea top to bottom,” agrees Alex Bogusky, creative advisor at Made Movement.
Balance Open-Layout with Distraction-Free Zones
On the other hand, studies have suggested that the open office layout may reduce concentration and productivity by providing increased distractions. The everyday interaction may lead to more noise and distractions, making it difficult for employees to concentrate. Lack of privacy, computer screens being easily visible by those walking by and telephone conversations being likely to be overheard, is another potential problem. The lack of privacy may give rise to legal or ethical issues arising from compromised confidentiality in regard to clients or colleagues.
However, there are ways around this. A recent article from Fast Company, suggests that there are ways to create a productive and enjoyable open layout office, rather than distracting and annoying.
First, giving employees several options for workspace is key to the open office success. Provide areas where everyone in the organization, in spite of personality or role, will feel contented, such as closed off, sound-proof rooms where people can conduct telephone calls, meetings or brainstorms.
After considering the types of spaces employees may need to work, consider where the diverse workspaces are positioned within your office. It is best if there is an easy flow from one space to another. For example, collaborative spaces should not disrupt people sitting at nearby desks. Providing multi-use spaces within an open layout can help reduce at-desk disruptions and distractions, effectively promoting collaboration AND productivity for a diverse workforce.
Decide What Works Best for Your Company
Which floor plan suits your company best is reliant on the operations and day-to-day responsibilities. Open office layout facilitates collaboration, whilst cubicles diminish distraction. If you are contemplating changing your office layout, poll employees on what they find most important in their office space. It really comes down to which layout suits your office workflow and business goals best.
Feature image credit: Albert Bredenhann, Pixel Pro Photography (source)