To Open Plan or Not to Open-Plan?

The open-plan office debate has been raging for years. Some companies swear by the communal layout, while others can’t abide it, saying it adversely impacts productivity.

If you’re about to move into new premises and you’re not sure whether to go open plan or not, read this first.

What are the advantages of choosing open-plan?

  • More fluid collaboration. This is the main thrust behind the open-plan movement – the fact that colleagues can more easily communicate with one another. Without walls, employees can chat about projects, hold impromptu meetings and ask important questions. Often, open-plan layouts feature central meeting zones too, which brings the team together even more.

  • More space and flow. Without multiple walls or dividers, the office suddenly feels like it has a lot more space. Light can move around the room much more freely, creating an airier, more spacious feel. This provides a more pleasant working environment.

  • It offers health benefits. Research shows that an open plan layout encourages workers to be more physically active in the office and reduces levels of stress outside the office too. With more freedom to move around, this gives employees a valuable chance to stretch their legs and return to the desk with renewed enthusiasm.

And the downsides?

  • Noise levels. This is a common complaint in open-plan offices. Trying to work while a neighbouring colleague is having a phone conversation can be distracting. The same applies when a group of people are having a meeting, only a few metres from the desk.

  • Too distracting. Some members of staff want to get on with the task at hand, without someone next to them chatting every five minutes. Likewise, the open-plan layout makes it all too easy for people to stop by other worker’s desks for a brief conversation.

  • Lack of privacy. While some employees don’t mind working with people watching them, others can find this off-putting. It creates an environment of social pressure; which may encourage people to work harder but might also make them feel as though they’re always under scrutiny.

What’s right for your business?

Before you move into your new office, consider the following:

  • Can easier collaboration improve your workflows? If communication is a vital aspect of the business, maybe open-plan is better for you. However, if your employees regularly need to get on with work quietly, then having some form of wall or divider might be better.

  • How would your space perform with open-plan? If the office is small, an open-plan layout can make it feel larger. However, if you’ve got a large office space, you might think that open-plan makes the area feel cavernous and impersonal.

  • What do your employees want? It often doesn’t occur to businesses to ask their employees what kind of environment they would like to work in, but it could be a wise idea to survey your team and get their preferences. After all, they’ll be the ones working there!

  • Could you mix and match? Some offices use a semi-open plan layout, which provides space for collaboration and private areas for staff to get on peacefully with their jobs.