Open-Plan Office Fitout Pros & Cons | Modern Office Fitout
The open-plan office fitout was first seen amongst firms in Silicon Valley. Corporate hierarchy came down with their walls, as they eradicated private offices. This open-plan, shoulder to shoulder, concept swayed far from corporate tradition. However, it has since taken off in Australia and around the world.
In Australia today, offices dedicate at least 50% of their space to collaborative, open-plan areas. 20 years ago, this was not the case at all, with as much as 90% of space used for offices and rows of cubicles.
Many believe that an open-plan office fitout encourages teamwork, productivity and creativity. But research continues to suggest otherwise.
Could the practice of communal office space be doing more harm than good?
Open-Plan Office Design Benefits
When talking about an open-plan fitout, a few things come to mind. Openness, togetherness and the freedom of ideas. Here are some reasons why businesses embrace open-plan office design in modern times.
The need for collaboration arises often in the workplace. An open-plan office fitout encourages collaboration by having employees situated face to face. This reduces the time it takes to get feedback. Additionally, it stimulates creativity and the sharing of ideas amongst co-workers.
Creates Workplace Unity
Office cubicles and workplace partitions limit casual interaction between employees. This casual interaction is important as it allows for the building of rapport amongst co-workers. With open-plan layouts, employees develop camaraderie, working side by side.
Good inter-personal office relationships have a positive effect on a workplace atmosphere. Your workplace atmosphere is key. It affects the quality of your employee’s work, and how long they stay around to do it.
Hierarchies form in the workplace around roles and period of service. In doing so, they create a barrier between different levels of staff which can hinder collaboration and productivity. An open-plan office fitout lessen these barriers and allow for improved integration.
This is achieved through the removal of physical barriers (i.e. walls and doors to private offices). It provides a levelling of the playing field by having all staff seated in an open and shared space.
Facilitates Ease of Supervision
A difficult and time-consuming part of a management role is supervision. When you spread your staff amongst various offices, supervision becomes a challenge. Open-plan layouts assist with the ease of supervision, with most or all staff in plain sight and reach.
This is a great feature of open-plan offices for the onboarding of new staff.
On one hand, an open-plan office design does present cost-effectiveness.
Usually, an office with an open-plan fitout requires less space. With space being a major business expense, it’s easy to see why this is beneficial. Less space means less furniture. As does the concept of open-plan-working, whereby staff share tables and desks.
Flexible working arrangements have become popular in recent times. This results in staff spending less time in the traditional office environment. Individual offices sitting empty are a waste of resources, but open-plan shared desks optimise both space and money.
Open Plan Office Design Disadvantages
Whilst the barrier-free space appeals to some, others are not immune to its pitfalls. There is value in an open-plan office fitout. And businesses that are progressive and open to change are appealing to employees. But one needs to consider that what you gain in ‘openness’ you can lose in privacy and productivity.
Here are a few things to think about when considering open-plan.
Communication is important, but many conversations needn’t have taken place. Employees in open-plan offices are in a never-ending buzz of activity and noise. As such, it can take its toll on the work they produce.
Future Workplace surveyed open-plan office employees. It concluded that noise is the number 1 issue that results in staff distraction.
Millennials and Gen Z are natives of the digital world. They are better suited to the fast-paced, chaotic environment in an open-plan office. Businesses must consider though, that the workplace currently consists of 4 generations. And each of these generations needs catering for.
Lack of Privacy
An open-plan office fitout means the ability to supervise your staff without difficulty. On the flip side though, open-plan offices do promote over-supervision. This increases the pressure staff feel to perform and effects their working environment.
Employees do their most effective work when allowed to focus on the task at hand, in an allocated space. This atmosphere is difficult to create in a completely open plan environment.
Harvard Business School conducted a recent study (2018). It investigated how transitioning into an open-plan office affected staff. Contrary to popular belief, it revealed that ‘openness’ created a withdrawal response.
This resulted in face to face interactions reduced by up to 70%. It also discovered staff experienced less productivity and were less inclined to collaborate.
Matthew Davis, an organisational psychologist, studied more than 100 office environments. He concluded that concentration, motivation, creativity and productivity were all hindered by open-plan office layouts.
Less Job Attachment
Fixed desk spaces and/or allocated offices are the preference of many workers. It provides an element of permanence that an open plan office with shared desk spaces does not. This impacts the enjoyment of their work, their attachment to their job and loyalty to the company.
It’s important to remember that employees thrive if in the right environment. Happy, confident employees tend to exceed expectations and provide consistent quality and reliability.
The researchers at the University of Technology in Queensland unveiled some scary statistics. They reported that open-plan office staff exceeded the sick days taken by those in a non-open plan office… by 62%!
High blood pressure and excessive stress were also present amongst 90% of the workers studied.
Finding the Perfect Balance
At SOFC Projects, we know that finding a middle ground is possible. A business need not choose between an open-plan fitout design or a closed, private design. You can encourage teamwork and collaboration without sacrificing privacy and quiet.
Whilst ambient noise and distraction might seem insignificant, studies have shown otherwise. The University of Sydney did a study. It revealed noise to be the most common complaint from open-plan workers. Job satisfaction proved to be higher in offices that provide private workspaces.
Your business can enjoy an open-plan fitout concept, whilst avoiding its pitfalls. You can achieve this by taking a flexible approach to your design.
Instead of having a completely open plan floor space, group teams of 4 or 5 in smaller shared space offices. Work open-plan collaboration spaces, into the design, providing the best of both worlds.
This way, staff experience the collaboration advantages that open-plan design offers. And they can do this whilst having the privacy features of a more traditional office fitout. Designing an office fitout that caters to these needs isn’t only in the interest of HR, it’s a financially beneficial move.
An open-plan office does have economic benefits. So, some business owners and managers lean towards this kind of office fitout. But it’s important to be aware of the disadvantages associated with open-plan offices.
When it comes to the perfect office fitout design, there is no one-size-fits-all. It is important to create an environment that will work best for your business and employees. An office design that prioritises employee health and productivity is a worthy investment.