Is it time to say goodbye to the open office plan?

Is it Time to Say Goodbye to the Open Office Plan?

Posted January 21, 2016 by Caroline Whitney in Running a Business 101
Is it time to say goodbye to the open office plan? We've done the research and weighed out some of the pros and cons.

Open office plans became a trend in the last few years. So much of a trend in fact, that 70% of offices have low partitions, or no partitions at all, anymore. All kinds of companies — startups, tech, finance — started implementing an open plan for various reasons. Some company owners cite open collaboration and transparency as their reasons for switching over to the new design. Others say that open plans are a money saver. The idea was such a hit, that even freelancers latched on to the idea, opting to network with others and share ideas in co-working spaces. But some are saying that the open office layout has more cons than pros — and it’s time to shift back to the traditional office layout.

What is an Open Office Plan?

We all know what a traditional office layout looks like: offices that occupy a large space, divided up into individual offices by cubicles or doors. An open office plan, by contrast, has no dividing walls separating the space. Employees could be working at a large bench or cluster of tables together. The idea first arose in the 1950s in Germany, from a team who wanted to increase productivity through communication and idea flow.

Why the Recent Trend?

So why have so many companies shifted to the open plan? For a multitude of reasons. Here are a few:

The Pros:

  •  It's cheaper. Saves money on heating/cooling, electricity, and construction.

  • It’s more egalitarian. Almost everyone has the same work space.
  • It can foster open communication between employees in a collaborative workplace.  Also can increase productivity for teams that thrive on lively workplaces, like sales and marketing.
  • Allows bosses to keep an eye on employees.
  • Also allow supervisors to be in constant contact with employees, which means resolving problems quickly.
  • They’re photogenic, which can be great for marketing initiatives.
  • Communication. No wasted time walking to someone else’s office to talk with someone, because you’re all in the same area.  Being closer to your coworkers can also help to build morale between employees.
  • Natural lighting!  With no walls or barriers, the light from outside creates a more natural environment.
  • Hey, they’re better than cubicles.

All of this sounds great, however, recently companies have started pulling away from the open plan that seemed so innovative. Why?<

The Cons:

  • No one can agree on temperature.  A seemingly small issue, but I hear complaints about this in my office on a daily basis. An issue for cubicled offices as well.
  • It’s hard to concentrate. Tons of distractions with others talking, eating, listening to music, and moving around in such close quarters.  It’s also noisier. A study from 2013 confirmed this — and that the difficulty to concentrate leads to dissatisfaction at work.
  • There’s no privacy, and no sense of personal space. Employees can’t close their door and really dive into their work in peace and quiet, which is essential for difficult or creative work at times. The lack of privacy can also lead confidentiality issues, depending on the type of work you do.
  • Bosses can keep an eye on employees. Yes, we listed this as a pro as well, but when employees feel like they are being watched at all times, it can hinder productivity.
  • It’s easier< to get sick. With everyone in such close proximity, catching a cold is inevitable.
  • Most importantly, it can be stressful and anxiety producing because of all of the above. And the more stressed an employee is, the harder it is to do good work.

Companies are recognizing that the cons are outweighing the pros with open spaces, and they're adapting. More and more offices are changing their open office plans to try and reduce the cons. For example, by setting up clusters of workstations instead of one big open area, having "office neighborhoods," and/or making sure there are quiet spaces for meetings. Others are opting to keep their traditional office space, finding it works for them.

What do you think? In which type of work environment would you thrive? Which type of office is best for your company and the work that you do? With publications like The Onion even talking about it, the debate will no doubt continue.

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.