Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of an Open-Office Floor Plan

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It seems that everyone is shifting from cubicle-heavy spaces to open-office floor plans. Open offices fit in line with an image of a “trendy” office space, categorized by optimal lighting, branded decorations, and collaborative, invigorated employees. However, open offices simply aren’t for everyone. If you’re thinking about making this shift in your workplace, first consider the pros and cons of an open-office floor plan.

Perks of an Open-Office Floor Plan

Open offices create an atmosphere of great collaboration between all levels of employees. No longer are upper-level individuals and bosses cordoned away in their grand and intimidating office. Everyone is on even ground, which breaks down the boundaries for creative and productive exchange. Additional benefits of this layout include:

  • The wall-less setup makes open offices more cost effective and flexible
  • The layout promotes “culture collisions,” which are chance encounters amongst employees
  • Crumple zones” allow for scalability and more feasible employee expansion
  • Open spaces increase natural lighting

When Open Offices Fall Short

For some types of workers, one-third to nearly half of the global population, open-office layouts can create feelings of anxiety. Introverts, as noted by Susan Cain in “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” don’t flourish as easily in an open floor plan. Constant interaction and a free flow of communication can be stifling to their creativity, so they often prefer an isolated workspace. Other problems with an open-office floor plans include:

  • They can be stress-inducing and even promote age discrimination, as noted by Fortune
  • The open layout lacks privacy
  • The noise levels can be prohibitive for individuals trying to concentrate on work

More specifically, according to HBR in a study conducted via Steelcase and Ipsos in 2014, employees in open-office spaces missed an average of 86 minutes of productive time due to noise distractions, such as  ringing cell phones, loud printers, or a coworker’s voice. Furthermore, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, office workers in open space floor plans report a loss of three to five hours per day of productive working time due to various interruptions.

An Open Office Success

Those statistics are a bit discouraging, but there is a way to achieve a happy medium!  A research study reported in HBR highlights success story of one office that chose to make the shift. In their setup, they included the following aspects:

  • Seating clusters for collaboration, along with standing and sitting work stations
  • Separate open spaces, such as a café for coffee breaks and meals, and a laboratory area with white boards, sofas, and worktables
  • Closed-off spaces for quiet tasks and meetings, such as a sound-free library space and conference rooms with glass walls for semi-privacy

The final results indicate the group using this floor plan appreciates the dynamic interaction of the space.

Best of Both Worlds

While the open-office floor plan is tempting as a dynamic, cost effective, and modern approach to office design, we can’t forget about employee concerns and work styles. Luckily, there is a way to design a workspace that balances the creative and productive ideals of open spaces with the needs of employees. Design for diversity, and design for the culture you want. Read our article on workplace and culture for some ideas on how to do that.

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