Apr 05, 2013

Open Office Layouts are Trendy, But Are They Better?

By Don Catalano



The open layout offices that were once the exclusive purview of creative industries like graphic design or advertising have become popular in many different industries. Their supporters point to their flexibility, their support for collaboration, and their ability to suit the needs of a changing and mobile workforce. On the other hand, open office layouts have many drawbacks that can negatively impact productivity and office utilization.


To Meet or Not To Meet

Open office plans make it easy for workers to interact with each other. Some integrate casual meeting spaces right into the floorplan so that work teams can get together, discuss issues and move their projects forward. The problem with these spaces is the potential to open the floodgates to too much collaboration. There sometimes comes a point where talking and strategizing get in the way of executing and open spaces can emphasize conversation over working.


Leave Me Alone

Sometimes, it's just nice to be able to concentrate. Open floorplan layout offices tend to have limited spaces where an employee can sit down, focus and work quietly without interruption. This can be extremely problematic in industries where workers have to perform complicated tasks. In many cases, the need to have a quiet place to work leads workers to turn conference rooms and meeting areas into ersatz private offices, or it causes them to work off-site, negating the collaborative benefits of the design.



When employees are in close physical proximity, it becomes easier for illnesses to spread. A recent survey conducted by the Staples office supply chain showed that 80 percent of workers go in to work when they are sick and, of those that stay home, two-thirds return to the office while they are still contagious. An open floorplan makes it easier for them to infect larger numbers of workers. Even if this doesn't cause absenteeism when your employees don't take sick days, it does reduce productivity.


Doesn't Anyone Work Around Here?

Employee coffee lounges, collaboration areas with beanbags, and office air hockey tables can all provide a chance for your team to get together and create ideas. They're also excellent places to goof off. Furthermore, encouraging employees to work away from their desks also makes it harder for managers to observe them and influence their performance. Harvesting an environment wherein employees can unwind and organically produce has proven to be an winning formula, but make sure you have the right employees.


A Place of My Own

While the "hoteling" arrangements that come with many open work plans can be very convenient for workers that are rarely in the office, they can be an inconvenience for workers that are in the office every day. Many open floorplan offices make it impractical to set up projects and files and keep them in place beyond the end of the day. This makes it harder for workers to come into work in the morning and hit the ground running.


You Saved... $0

An open floorplan office should be less expensive to build since it doesn't require cubes, offices or doors. However, many companies find that the savings from building a minimalist office space doesn't materialize. Between the cost of furnishing collaboration areas and the need for multiple common spaces and other semi-private spaces, it often becomes difficult monetize such areas.


Other great Office articles:

The Future of Office Space

9 Must-Haves for Commercial Real Estate Office Space

Protecting Yourself from Signing the Wrong Office Lease


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Don Catalano

Don Catalano