The myth of open-plan offices generating more productivity has made open designs on trend since the early 2000s. Designers, architects and business owners alike tried to spark ideas and let businesses stand out from the crowd by getting rid of barriers like walls, cubicles and private offices. Barriers are unnecessary – giving everyone a space at a shared table is much better for collaboration, right? Having an open design can allow you to get the most out of your employee’s creative energy that might be hidden away if they hid behind in their terminals!
This trend goes together with scientific research that states that younger talents like millennials and Gen Z seem to prefer working in open-plan offices. It’s cheaper too, while still modern, and attractive to retaining talent – why would anyone not choose open-plan offices when they decide build or renovate their office?
In fact, very few people don’t – according to a study in 2010 by the International Facility Management Association, 68% of people worked in offices with low walls, or no walls at all. That was 9 years ago – the number of workers working in open-plan offices has undoubtedly grown.
However, this magical money-saving promise that open-plan offices create collaboration turned out to be a myth for many businesses.
A 2018 Harvard Business School study found that open-plan offices actually decreased face to face communication by 70%. Additionally, open-plan offices could also affect a worker’s perceived health and performance, and make them ask for more absences due to illness. It also infringes on an employee’s private sense of space. Not everyone is a social animal that thrives on other people’s energy and creativity – in fact, a recent study found that open-plan offices limits the feeling of privacy and increases the sense of intrusion instead, while also decreasing job satisfaction, work engagement and work relations between employees instead.
The logic is simple – open plans are great at encouraging interaction between teams, like when companies are encouraging new products, or when someone is sparking a new campaign that needs a multi-disciplinary approach. But open-plan offices are horrible at helping collaboration within teams, when people need to implement all the amazing, creative ideas that people have just set up. People just become distracting when you need to concentrate and focus.
So, what’s the solution?
Innovative design, from architects that understand that providing flexibility and variety is key to success. No office design is one-size-fits-all, especially when you consider all the different types of businesses out there, who want to establish their own distinct culture while not sacrificing an employee’s individual needs.
Break-out spaces are very important, and traditional cubicles are an unattractive design of the past. Now it’s all about designing the middle-ground, by minimising the downsides.
Offering multiple choices that provide varying amounts of privacy and exposure are a good start to providing flexibility in design. Architects are creating more and more creative ways to implement these in offices. Huddle rooms, open gathering spaces, moveable pods, telephone booths, larger conference rooms – all of these can help create a successful open-plan office as you give your employees their choice of spaces for their work-needs.
By giving them this choice, you cater to their needs. It might be a little more expensive than a completely open office may be, but its undeniable that staff costs will always be the biggest long-term expense. Creating the perfect space for them to work – whether in a large multi-disciplinary team, or in a small one to two-person job, will create the experience that might mean keeping or losing talent.
Additionally, traditional spaces can be rethought – like large, to medium-sized conference rooms can take a step back to smaller conference spaces. Open plans have removed private offices for managers, so many managers need small rooms to have a private talk with an employee.
Open-plan offices can be productive, if used wisely in a reactive business sensitive to what open-plan offices need to flourish, whether it is in tactical investments for the future, or a shift in mindset. Make sure to give your employees the tools to succeed with a great office design that truly suits them.