Open Plan Office Space– Will It Work For Your Company?

Keeping an Open Mind on Open Plan

You hear a lot about open plans these days. At first glance, they seem like an attractive option. Less expensive (fewer walls or modules), more expansive-looking design. Envision a corporate beehive instead of a honeycomb.

So (I can hear you saying), what’s the catch? Well, as with most things that seem like no-brainers, it’s best if you apply a smidgen of brainwork to the subject. Yes, open-plan offices can be more creative, productive, economical, beautiful– but only in certain cases. Whether it will work for your situation depends on the type of work that’s being done, as well as the nature of the building and the age of the workers.

First the bad news

Let’s cover the negative aspects first: Open-plan office environments can increase stress and create conflict between employees; it may contribute to staff turnover. Noise is especially difficult to manage. Just the hum of several people talking on the phone or in an impromptu meeting can easily escalate to the point of distraction.

Confidentiality goes out the window with open-space plans. So does privacy. For the gregarious soul in an industry that thrives on collaboration, this is a plus. For more staid industries or people who need a quiet environment, not so much.

Now the good news

On the other hand, there are good reasons why open-plan work spaces have been growing more popular. Large American companies find that interaction between individuals in various departments yield tangible benefits. Surprise! There’s actually value in having designers work face-to-face with bean-counters, for instance.

For facilities managers and other executives, the savings are substantial. There is also the advantage of flexibility. As the company grows, changes or evolves, it’s fairly easy to reconfigure the work space. Plus climate control is easier with open space; and daylight is more evenly available throughout the building. Window views can be shared by all. In today’s horizontal work environment, the leveling of status– at least in terms of physical offices– makes sense.

How to make the call

Obviously, some industries lend themselves more than others to open-plan work environments. Advertising agencies and entertainment are two that come to mind. Accounting firms or any company that requires quiet concentration from its employees, on the other hand, may want to stick with traditional offices.

The age of the workforce is also a consideration. Experts say that, generally speaking, younger people are more amenable to open plan seating. And no matter who or how old your workforce, you need to make private office space available for solo work or small-group meetings. Before you decide anything, try to assess the effect such a move would have on your corporate culture. And then introduce the subject carefully– explaining the decision, the benefits you expect, adjustments the employees will need to make– and support the changes and any feedback from the work force.

You can accentuate the positive– friendlier work environment, more creativity and innovation, financial benefits for the company. While some employees may resent losing their office/window/privacy, you can highlight the increased sense of space and light. Maybe there’s a way to compensate for the loss of prestigious corner office? (Just asking . . . .)

No matter what you decide, you don’t want to spring this on the workforce. The main point is to keep your employees informed and involved in the project– which is, after all, the point of open space, when you think about it.

To discuss open-plan and other office configurations, give me a call or send me a message:

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