The pros and cons of an open plan office
If you are considering an office refurbishment or a new fitout, you will have to choose between different office layout options. Open plan is still the most popular choice for many businesses, so Evoke Projects takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of an open plan office design.
Advantages of an open plan office
Scope for interesting, free flowing areas
The first image that springs to mind when you think ‘open plan office’ is likely to be rows of impersonal desks. However, open plan offices can be dynamic and interesting, with many opportunities to appeal to the younger generation of workers, who like freedom and flexibility:
- Turn meeting ‘rooms’ into meeting ‘pods’, with sofas, coffee tables and funky furniture.
- Add a stand-up desk zone for meetings and to assist with employee health and workspace variety.
- Use themed zones and colours to motivate staff and make the office interesting.
To design a practical and interesting open plan office, think outside the box—or hire an expert in office interior design.
Lower space costs
Open plan offices can save up to 20% in building costs,* which is often the number one consideration at a management level when adopting an open plan office design.
Lower office running costs
Lighting, heating and cooling run more economically in open plan offices, as light is cast across a wider area and you can set one temperature rather than catering for individual preferences.
Employees can communicate quickly with their colleagues in an open plan office, providing teams are optimally located within the office. When planning your office space, also consider inter-team communication.
Teamwork and collaboration
Open plan working encourages a free flow of information, informal discussions and an exchange of ideas. Open plan offices give teams the opportunity to collaborate easily, as they don’t have to wait for a specific time and place to have a meeting. This does rely on good office design that allows collaboration spaces, such as meeting pods, booth seating and breakout zones. Breakout zones get people away from their desks and encourage informal interaction in a relaxing environment.
More sociable atmosphere
Open plan offices tend to have less formality and this creates a feeling of social cohesion. There is often a ‘buzz’ and friendly atmosphere in open plan workspaces. This is an advantage, however, that has a corresponding downside for people who like quiet working spaces and value their privacy.
Flexible and responsive office interior design
It is much easier to change team configurations and workstation layouts in an open plan office. Businesses can respond to changes in headcount quickly and efficiently.
Reduce duplication and minimise costs with hubs
Open plan offices give you the scope to cater for the needs of many people in specialised hubs:
- charging hubs for recharging phones and tablets
- media hubs for watching presentations
- printing, scanning and copying hubs
These hubs reduce the need for lots of technology-related devices around the office.
They can also be used as informal collaboration spaces.
Supervision is easier
Managers and supervisors can keep track of people and workflow more easily in an open plan office environment. They will be more aware of issues due to the informal nature of the office and can resolve them quickly.
Less time wasting
Employees are less likely to engage in personal phone calls or online shopping when everybody around them can see what they are doing. Arguably, this has to be weighed against the additional inter-office chats about social lives and sports matches!
The downside of open plan offices
Make sure you consider all the downsides of an open plan office and work out how you can combat these potential disadvantages. Evoke Projects offers some solutions below and can also tailor specific solutions for your business.
There are more distractions in an open plan office than a high-partitioned cubicle or enclosed office. Some people can work effectively regardless of noise levels, but productivity will be affected if employees cannot concentrate. Mistakes are more likely and customer service levels can be compromised. Look at the tasks that need to be performed and plan desk use accordingly. For example, don’t place call centre teams next to data entry or accounts staff.
Noise levels and lack of privacy
Open plan offices can be difficult for employees who like their privacy, or who don’t want to listen to the minutiae of their colleagues’ lives. Some businesses seek balance by having rules about daily quiet times, where conversations and telephone calls are kept to a minimum. Other solutions include acoustic screens and desk layouts that minimise eye contact.
In all businesses, there are times when confidential discussions are required and documents need to be kept secret. This is difficult in open plan offices, but good office design should allow space for private talks and work. Consider locating teams who perform confidential work, such as the legal, HR and finance departments, in one area, with adjacent private offices so that confidential work and discussions can take place easily.
Risk of spreading infection
A Swedish study found that the risk of illness increased in open plan offices, with more sick days taken as a result. The study went even further, suggesting that stress factors, such as noise exposure and lack of privacy, also caused health problems. The Medical Journal of Australia reported a Victorian case of tuberculosis that was spread partly because of an open plan office design. * You can install hand sanitisers around the office to help reduce the risks of infection and encourage staff to stay at home when they are feeling sick. Embrace mobile technology and flexible working from home so that employees can be productive when they are well enough to work but potentially carrying germs.
Getting the best out of an open plan office design
The term ‘open plan office’ can embrace so many different options. Maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages through careful planning and good office design. Getting the balance right in an open plan office often means including a mix of zones, with open plan dominating the design approach but also incorporating some private cubicles, meeting rooms and breakout areas.
For open plan office designs and fitouts that work for your business, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.
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