An open-plan office layout has become the go-to design for many offices around the world. Offering more light, easier interaction and greater versatility in design options, it is easy to see why. However, the layout is not universally lauded. It can remove privacy and cause distractions if not managed properly. Here are some positive and negative aspects of the design.
Not having physical walls or separate offices can help people communicate more easily, especially if there are different ranks within the same open-plan environment. Staff can feel more comfortable going up to someone’s desk, rather than having to knock on a closed door and await the invitation to enter. It is easier to enjoy some brief social chat at quieter times and to ask each other for advice when necessary.
The open-plan design has been proven to increase productivity too, for the main reason that people can work together more easily. Having the whole team together all the time removes the need to schedule in so many formal meetings. People can simply drag their chairs over to one person’s desk for a brief discussion or idea-sharing session and then get back to work. It could also be that non-confidential discussions that are overheard can benefit from other people adding input, if they have a different point of view or a new approach to suggest.
Open-plan layouts can also have an effect on the business bills – heating and lighting being two obvious areas of savings, thanks to improved flow of air and light. More equipment can be shared, such as printers, photocopiers and recycling centres. Then, there is the option for renting smaller office buildings, as less room will be taken up with internal walls and doors – even oddly-shaped areas can be pressed into use as part of a larger, open-plan room.
On the other hand, some workers have reported lower levels of concentration in an open-plan environment as it can be harder to shut out surrounding sound and focus on your own work. A particularly chatty co-worker, or someone who speaks loudly on the phone can be extremely distracting. This can be counteracted in part by having set rules on office etiquette and installing low panels between desks.
Sometimes, phone calls, meetings and colleague discussions must be kept confidential, and this can be very hard to do in an open-plan office. In these instances, having a couple of bookable meeting rooms can help people secure the discretion they need, although it can sometimes be hard to predict when a standard phone call might turn into something more confidential. Likewise, computer screens are easily visible in open-plan offices, so measures should be taken to ensure that they can be shielded when being used for tasks requiring greater privacy.
Keeping fit and healthy
Coughs and colds can travel round an open-plan office far more easily, leading to potentially higher sickness absences and reduced productivity around seasonally vulnerable times, such as the winter. Keeping workers informed about how to protect against viruses and practice good hygiene at work will help reduce this disadvantage.