The modern workplace is changing, and it’s to the benefit of everyone. Employers know their competitive advantage is driven most by the quality of their employees, so they want to attract and keep top talent. In addition to changes in culture and flexible working arrangements the actual footprints of offices are beginning to change – the open floor plan and communal think tank environments. Is it the end of the cubicle?
So, is it a good thing? Are all workers embracing it? Are there advantages or disadvantages to productivity, working together, or other aspects driven by wide open spaces and shared environments? There are arguments both for and against open plan offices. Let’s dig into them.
It’s less expensive to set up and maintain an open plan office
Putting together banks of desks where employees can work together is cheaper than creating individual cubicles. Employers don’t need to pay additional costs for the partitions, cabling, and other aspects for workers in individual cubicles. It’s easy.
Open plan offices take up less space
Cubicles and partitions increase the individual “footprint” of an employee’s working area. If you need to fit lots of employees into a space, open plan is a more economical way to do so.
Open plan offices handle expanding and contracting workforces better
It’s easier to scale an open plan office layout. If you’re taking on or reducing staff, open plan offices can be reconfigured easily for new teams, and reduced in size for leavers.
Open plan offices can promote more communication between team members
Seating team members together can open up lines of communication. It’s easier to ask questions and get quick responses. There’s also evidence this can be disruptive, but we’ll cover that below.
The Not So Good:
Open plan offices mean less privacy and personalization
Let’s face it, there is little privacy when there are no offices or cubicles. As a result, there’s not a sense of “ownership” for their workspace, which can create stress. Additionally, it’s difficult to personalize a workspace with pictures, or other important items in an open plan office, meaning employees may feel disconnected.
For some, it’s harder to concentrate in an open plan office
The noise of an open plan office can make it difficult to focus and concentrate on important tasks. You could see a reduction in productivity.
More communication means more disruption
Although more communication is good in theory, in practice it often causes significant disruption. Constant distractions make it difficult to complete tasks, and the “switch time” between working on a task, stopping to answer a question, and then getting back to a task again can be significant.
The happy medium
The smart employer wants the best of both worlds, which is why hybrid style offices are becoming more in vogue. They combine an open plan layout for team meetings, workshops, and group projects, while allowing employees to go to quiet rooms, breakout areas, or personal cubicles for in-depth work that needs concentration.
It’s important to understand your employees working styles and the type of work they need to do. Creative people tend to like collaborative workspaces where analytical people tend to lean towards private quiet spaces where there are fewer interruptions.
Whatever option you decide to use, ask your employees what’s going to work for them. Giving them some say in their working environment will create plenty of goodwill.
Bob E. Teittinen
Commercial Lender, Senior Vice President