Best Practices in HR

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Aaron Carr
  December 6, 2018

Open Office Design: Do or Don’t?

Businesses around the world are reshaping their office culture – literally. Open office spaces are featured in big name companies like Google and Facebook, but are the benefits really worth overhauling your workplace?

We can’t deny it, there are certainly some major benefits to having an open office space.

Boost interaction and collaboration

First and foremost, collaboration and communication between departments and staff are reportedly guaranteed to improve. With little to no barriers between you and the person next to you, it would seem easier than ever to stay in touch with the projects of coworkers and throw ideas back and forth.

Managers also found that by stationing their desks in high-traffic areas, staff felt more comfortable informally stopping to speak with their superiors. This is a two-handed win: management have more insight into their staff’s progress and problems and employees feel more invested in their projects, the company’s overall culture, and mission. The lack of perceived boundaries has been reported by psychologist Matthew Davis to giving employees a more new-age, collaborative perception of the company, inspiring creativity and innovation. ¹

On the other hand, a concern of these open spaces is whether they negatively impact overall productivity – all that talking perhaps equals not enough work? A survey report by The Office Group (TOG) revealed that about 80% of employees feel more productive in co-working spaces than in isolated offices. Further statistics from the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine state that workers are significantly less stressed and more active in open space offices than their cubicle-locked counterparts.

Millennial-dominated companies can often be found operating within open office plans, but this has more to do with the company values than growing up in a hyper-connected world.² Now, an estimated 70% of U.S. offices have open space layouts.³ If teamwork and communication are areas you are looking to improve or are ideals the company values, it may be something to give a shot!

Increased stress and interruptions

Before we put the official stamp of approval on open office plans, there is some incriminating evidence to note.

Studies on open office plans are relatively new, but there are enough contradicting outcomes that it is important to consider the potential downsides. Harvard researchers actually found that people who work in open offices are less likely than cubicle dwellers to collaborate or interact with their colleagues.

Another point raised recognizes the individual work rhythms of employees:  When one employee takes their break and wants to socialize, another employee may be in the midst of their most productive time of the day. Noise is an incredibly potent influencer on productivity, and there is proof that as little of three hours of open-office noise can increase adrenaline levels, raising stress levels in employees.

With conflicting evidence, deciding whether an open or closed office space becomes a bit more difficult. Perhaps the deciding factor comes down to the company persona. The physical arrangement of your office projects a certain vibe: what do you want the tone of your business and its offices to be?

Workplace plays a major role in setting the right tone for guests in your office as well as employees, who have their own perception of the brand reinforced by the environment they operate in. Open concept offices are known for feeling inclusive, more informal, and let in more light, which – as a bonus – contributes to general well-being. If your company image is fun, approachable, and ‘young,’ open offices certainly portray that persona.

When in doubt, test it out!

If all that stands in your way is rearranging some furniture, a trial period to monitor productivity and employee happiness may be a huge payoff for only a little work.


Smallbusiness.chron.com – Advantages & Disadvantages of Openplan Office Space

Inc.com – 3 Reasons the Open Office Concept is Good for leaders

Peoplematters – Are Workspaces of Today Designed to Fuel Aspirations