Open Plan Offices: A Recipe for Collaboration or Chaos?
It seems like every office is built on an open plan now.
For many business owners, it’s an effective solution that works. It’s simple, scalable—and depending on the materials used—more affordable to build. But is a one-size-fits-all fitout the best option? Do open plan offices account for varying work styles among your team?
Below, we weigh up the pros and cons of the open plan office. Keep reading to the end, where we share some tips to help you create an office space that helps everyone perform their best work.
For budget-conscious builds an open plan office could be more cost-effective. Unlike private offices, open-plan fitouts do not require the construction of numerous walls, cubicles, and partitions. Fewer materials, fewer fixtures, and fewer moving parts overall could make your initial fitout costs lower.
With fewer physical parts in the fitout, open-plan offices effectively require less maintenance. And as your team grows, you’re not locked into a particular floor plan. You have the freedom and flexibility to scale your office space as new members join or technology needs increase. This flexibility further reduces the costs required to reconfigure the office space.
Traditional offices carry a strong sense of hierarchy. Managers are locked behind closed doors with glazed windows. Mid-level employees are blocked into sound-proof cubicles. Different departments work on different floors, and the CEO is probably in a different area entirely.
A traditional office plan can be motivating to employees seeking upward mobility in their careers. A promotion isn’t just a change in job title, it’s a physical change from the cubicle to a private, personal office. Yet this type of floor plan doesn’t foster a community of collaboration and inclusivity.
Open-plan design levels the playing field between upper management and mid-level team members. The physical divides between hierarchy are removed, further dismantling any symbolic pecking order within your team. Having superiors that are approachable and accessible is a powerful statement about a company’s culture. It lets the wider team know that any and all opinions are valued, regardless of job title. Open-plan design also encourages collaboration and idea-sharing across different departments.
For startups, an open-plan fitout is one of the most flexible design offerings around. Open layouts are adaptable and can be easily reconfigured to meet the needs of an evolving business.
Experiencing a stage of rapid growth? You can comfortably redesign the space to fit more hot desks and breakout spaces.
Want to tap into productivity at the individual level? Create quiet spaces, soundproof pods, and collaboration areas to cater to the various work styles within your team.
With an open-plan design, you’re not locked into one, rigid floor plan. You can affordably change and upgrade the space as your business grows.
It’s no secret that sunlight is one of the most natural and effective ways to boost mood and increase focus and alertness in humans. For employees working from sunrise to sunset in an office, it can be really difficult to get these productivity-boosting benefits effectively. Traditional offices are filled with artificially lit hallways and office rooms. Only private offices on the outskirts of the floor plan have windows to capture natural daylight. All others are stuck inside, with no real sense of the time passing outside.
An open-plan layout is different. There are fewer walls and partitions. Once light enters the office it can travel through and illuminate the entire space, reducing energy costs for artificial lighting during the day.
Natural light also helps to regulate our circadian rhythms; something which our laptop screens work to disrupt daily. Having a well-lit space could reduce feelings of early morning grogginess amongst your team, encouraging a healthy sleep/wake cycle throughout the work week.
Open-plan fitouts can foster communication. But how much communication is too much?
The sales team is taking calls, the designer is focusing on a creative task, the CEO is meeting with clients, and the project manager is having side conversations every 15 minutes. Let’s not forget background office music.
Managing noise is one of the biggest design challenges in an open-plan office. Every noise is heard in an open space, creating constant distractions for your team. Peers can start up conversations on a whim instead of scheduling meetings, creating further disruptions for the wider team.
Soundproof partitions can help. Designated quiet spaces are better. And no matter what, headphones are an essential piece of equipment in open offices.
Approachability is one of the greatest benefits of open plan design. But it’s a double-edged sword. Once one team member says to another “Hey, quick question…” any focus on the current task is lost entirely. Even if the conversation was less than a minute, it could take both parties anywhere from 8 to 25 minutes to recover their focus.
Every time our brains switch between a task or point of focus, our productivity drops. That’s the paradox of open-plan design. It naturally invites staff to collaborate and share new ideas and opinions. Yet the tradeoff is solo work that takes longer to complete or is of lower quality.
Illness Spreads Easily
Proximity encourages virality.
Open-plan offices are not unlike the typical school classroom. Many people are in one open space for an extended period. This proximity increases the likelihood that disease and illness will spread, potentially leading to more absenteeism among your team.
Open floor plans can also impact mental wellbeing. Our 5 senses are always on and can’t be turned off. Interruptions and small sounds may feel like minor occurrences. Yet each unwanted noise slowly chips away at concentration, turning the very act of focusing into a stressful ordeal.
Some conversations are difficult to have with other employees around. These include:
- Discussions around salary
- Performance meetings
- Confidential client meetings
- HR-related issues
- Behaviour-related discussions
While adjustments can be made to accommodate for these rare occasions, business owners should consider the importance of private spaces in relation to the type of work they will carry out daily.
Creating an Office Fitout That Caters to Various Work Styles
The open-plan office might be the solution to all your business needs. Or maybe after reading this, you’re considering a more custom solution. Your fitout doesn’t need to be bound to traditional office design or open-plan trends. You can create a space that caters to various workstyles within your team.
- Acoustics: Incorporate sound-absorbing materials into your fitout to help minimise distractions.
- Designate Areas For Quiet Work: Install rooms, office pods, or private desks for distraction-free solo work.
- Go Hybrid: Build a mix of private offices and collaborative spaces into your fitout. This style is particularly popular in law offices and wellness centres.
- Set Rules for Respectful Work: Everyone works differently. Create a culture of awareness and acknowledgement of different work styles and encourage your team to be understanding of everyone’s productivity needs.
- Audit: As your team grows and changes, regularly assess what’s working and what isn’t. Make minor changes as necessary to promote quality workplace wellbeing and productivity.
Design a Custom Office With Canopy Fitouts
In recent years, many businesses have latched onto the open-plan fitout concept due to its versatility. While it does have many benefits, business owners should also keep in mind that everyone works differently. Don’t feel like you have to lock into an office that’s totally traditional or completely open. With a custom fitout from Canopy Fitouts, you can design a space that caters to various work styles, ensuring you get the best work out of your team.
Speak to our team today and we’d be more than happy to give you advice on cost, budgets, requirements, and timeframes for your office fitout. Give us a call at 1800 434 868 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s bring your vision to life.