Open plan offices are becoming more and more popular. The way paved by Google, Facebook and Ebay is swiftly being following by small, medium sized and large businesses all over the globe. Individual offices are disappearing, dividers and partitions are being knocked down, and staff are being grouped together for multiple purposes: to save space and encourage teamwork, collaboration and a more social, friendly office environment.
But are open plan offices all they’re cracked up to be? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons…
Advantages of an open plan office
- For businesses that require colleagues to work collectively in teams, open plan office spaces are ideal because there’s actually no need for privacy. Everyone can come together and get involved. For these kinds of businesses, partitions and private offices simply aren’t necessary.
- Open plan offices are cheaper in a lot of cases. Offices with partition walls and numerous private offices are often much more expensive because they are a lot larger. In most cases you’ll find that individual private offices can fit several people in them, therefore space is not being optimised. When an office is open plan, it’s one huge, spacious room, so employees feel like they have more space even though the office as a whole is smaller.
- A large, spacious, open office with plenty of natural light soaking into all corners of the room can foster greater productivity than being holed up in a private office on your own.
- Open plan offices can be much friendlier places. With no partitions and private offices, colleagues are forced to interact with each other, which means better working relationships form and become friendships. There is much more opportunity for certain colleagues to become isolated, or to isolate themselves, in a traditional office with private rooms and partitions.
Disadvantages of an open plan office
- For some businesses open plan offices can be the antithesis of a productive working environment. The Journal of Environmental Psychology carried out a study in 2013 which found that many workers in open plan offices are frustrated by distractions, and that such distractions lead to poorer work performance. The study also found that 30% of workers surveyed complained about the lack of visual privacy, and almost 50% of works said the lack of sound privacy was a huge problem for them.
- Open plan offices might be good for businesses where collaboration and teamwork is required constantly, but they’re not a good option for businesses that require employees to work alone on tasks, and to concentrate. For example, writers, artists, developers and designers, and businesses utilising these kinds of skills from particular employees, tend to require low key environments free from distractions in order to work effectively. Many of history’s great imaginaries – such as J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates – have produced their best work in private environments, far away from distractions.
- Open plan offices also suit certain types of people, such as people who can work well amidst distractions or are more extroverted, meaning they work better in the company of others. Those with introverted tendencies and those who are easily distracted will find an open plan office completely detrimental to their performance.
In many cases, it depends on the type of business, or the particular job role of an employee. Businesses need to look at this carefully. If a job requires both teamwork and private work, then perhaps an office with the best of both worlds can be achieved: one that has an open plan space, along with some private rooms or quiet areas for when employees need to get their head down and concentrate on a task.
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