Open plan offices have divided opinion ever since they emerged into the spotlight. The move from closed offices, where workers had rooms or cubicles to keep them separate from other teams and employees, has picked up pace over the years, and the calls for more open, inclusive and collaborative work spaces become harder to ignore.
That said, are they as good as everyone makes them out to be? Should we all be adopting the open office environment, or is this a case of a fad that won’t last?
We thought we’d take a look at open plan offices and whether they’re going to stand the test of time.
Why Open Plan Offices are Good
There are plenty of reasons as to why open plan offices are good for businesses and their employees. Everything becomes a lot more transparent when you can see the people next to you and conversation flows that little bit better. Natural light reaches more people in the office, and that can have big benefits, too.
Here are some of the biggest advantages to open plan offices that everyone can enjoy.
They are Cost-Effective
One of the biggest selling points of open plan offices, from a business perspective, is the cost saving. Creating partitions means you need more furniture for every employee and this can quickly add up.
Open plan offices allow you to use more of this space effectively, arranging workspaces and employees to allow more people to join the organisation. With the right planning, you can make the most of your office for longer before needing somewhere new and bigger.
Communication and Collaboration Become Easier
Without the walls or partitions, open plan offices make it a lot easier to collaborate with others. While meetings and brainstorming sessions will always have their place, it’s sometimes easier for employees to meet on a couch and hash out some ideas or details on a project in a few minutes rather than endlessly bouncing back emails or booking a room.
If an employee knows the person they need to speak to is just a few desks away, or across the room, they can easily go and speak to that person and find out what they need to know there and then. It makes things quicker and easier for all involved, as long as boundaries are respected.
Taking Advantage of Flexible Space
Open offices, by their nature, are large spaces that you can mold into what you need them to be. From rows of desks that allow more people to work to meeting areas that encourage cooperation and collaboration, you can set them up just how you want them.
Meeting rooms can quickly become workshop spaces. Coffee stations can become idea hubs. Desk arrangements can be changed to put certain teams together.
These are just a few ideas. They take a little work but the results more than justify the extra effort.
The Disadvantages of Open Plan Offices
While there are plenty of benefits, there are also disadvantages of open plan offices that shouldn’t be glossed over. When considering their value, knowing both sides help to make informed decisions. Weighing up the pros and cons means you can make the right decision for your business and its future.
Some of the downsides to open plan offices include the following points.
Noise and Distractions
Putting so many people together without partitions is going to encourage conversation and, as a result, noise. While this is obviously going to benefit work communications, it’s natural that people will talk about other things from time to time.
The more people that do this, the more noise there is in the office – and believe us, it carries further than you think.
Partitions help block some of this, but there are other options you can look at, too, especially if the noise is too distracting. Other distractions include people moving about, phone calls and even noises and smells from food areas.
Lack of Privacy
There’s a big difference with open plan offices in the amount of transparency. You can see exactly who’s doing what without partitions and that might be seen as a great thing, yet there are risks.
Not only will some people feel self-conscious, but chances are people do different jobs across the teams you have. Now, these other teams might not know enough about someone’s job and what they have to do and it might look like they’re doing nothing or very little. Word of this spreads and it becomes a very toxic place, which doesn’t help anyone.
Being more open and transparent about roles can help, but being able to shelter an employee or team from that scrutiny is also an option.
While open plan offices do let you fit more people into the office, there is a risk of overcrowding. Reducing the amount of workspace per person can make them feel cramped and uncomfortable, which impacts their productivity.
Also consider the health implications. Germs and illnesses can sometimes spread. With people so close and mingling, there is a chance one person being ill could result in those around them catching the bug, too. Partitions aren’t a perfect barrier, but they can help mitigate the spread.
The Open Plan Vs Closed Plan Office
In the end, the open plan vs closed plan office debate isn’t going to be settled any time soon. There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both options, but perhaps more important to consider, which hasn’t been mentioned, is the type of business and the people who you employ.
Does Your Business Work with an Open Plan Office?
While all the benefits listed above might sound great in theory, it’s important to consider if, in practise, open plan offices will actually help your business perform and grow.
If most of the tasks your employees carry out don’t rely on large amounts of collaboration, or the distractions from increased noise outweighs the gains, you might be better off with partitions – even if it’s for specific teams rather than individuals.
You might think that being able to fit more people into an open plan office is a great idea, but consider carefully the value of the people you have and are adding. More employees doesn’t necessarily mean better results if those people aren’t working as well as they could be.
Which leads us to…
Will Your Ideal Employees Benefit from Open Plan Offices?
Everyone is different. People work in different ways and while there’s a capability to adapt to environments and surroundings, it’s important to consider what the people already working for you think will help them perform at their best.
You can’t please everyone, but if, for example, you think an open plan office offers better room to grow but the people on the ground will suffer from lower productivity, you’ve got to ask what compromise you’re willing to make.
The nature of the work plays a part in attracting people with specific skill sets and preferences. Throwing that away could lose you top talent to a competitor that provides an environment they feel more comfortable in and perform at their best.
Finding Your Open Plan Office
At least for the time being, open plan offices aren’t going anywhere. They’re not for everyone, but there are some clear advantages to opting for this style of workplace.
If an open plan office is the way forward, you can find a huge range of commercial property to fit your needs at Williams Sillitoe. We can help you find the perfect office across South Manchester and Cheshire, combining great locations with the space and features you’re looking for.
It’s a big decision, which we understand all too well, but our team is ready to help. Get in touch with us today to kickstart your search.