The open-office floor plan was first used in the 1950s but gained popularity in the 2000s when major tech companies such as Google and Facebook adopted it.
The basic premise of the open-office concept is to remove walled-in offices and get everyone to work in a large, open room, with only low-partitioned cubicles separating employees from each other. A common area where groups can meet is also set up without partitions or barriers.
Other offices have eliminated cubicles completely, and have even set up recreation areas complete with ping pong tables and similar amenities.
The biggest reason for adopting an open-space plan is collaboration. By breaking down office walls that separate employees, it’s easier for them to work together on projects and have a free exchange of ideas.
Open-space plans foster better engagement among co-workers and builds camaraderie. Fewer restrictions also allow employees to move around when they feel the need to– something that not only has health benefits, but is also believed to enhance creativity and productivity.
Additionally, an open-space plan offers opportunities for cost savings. By removing barriers, more employees can fit in the same amount of office space. Plus, the costs for putting up walls are eliminated. An open-space plan also provides flexibility, allowing businesses to easily accommodate more employees, or modify space utilization.
After the initial positive reception to open-space plans, the concept has recently come under much criticism, with employees complaining about the distractions that an open plan creates.
Studies have found that employees working in an open-space office are more prone to diseases and feel more exhausted at the end of the day, resulting in increased absenteeism.
Employees also complain about having too little privacy, and the feeling of “being judged” by their co-workers for such things as going to the bathroom too often.
Employees in open-space offices are often advised to use headphones and listen to music to drown out the surrounding noise. But this, too, can have a negative effect on a number of workers who get distracted even by music and other ambient noise.
Additionally, critics point out that when employees use their headphones to avoid distractions, the purpose of the open space layout is already defeated.
Experts have suggested that the open-plan layout is best used by companies that require plenty of collaboration among employees, such as design, technology, advertising, and PR firms. BPOs could also greatly benefit from the layout, as it allows optimal use of space.
In other industries, however, it becomes a matter of preference. The open-plan layout may not be desirable for jobs that require a quieter environment and individual focus.
The solution adopted by many companies is combining an open layout with cubicles and private offices. Some big businesses that have adopted the open plan, including Google, have “breakout rooms” or reflection rooms, where employees can retreat to if they want to work with more peace and quiet.
Phone rooms also help, allowing employees to talk on the phone without causing distractions.Likewise, enclosed meeting rooms help minimize disruptions. Well-designed acoustics can also work to reduce noise.
Cubicles should preferably be designed to allow movement and change of postures. They should also be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the office layout, and to add or reduce space as may be needed.
With mixed options, employees have more freedom to pick the working environment they feel most comfortable in. While this may mean added costs initially, it can also result in better productivity and happier employees, creating a win-win situation for all.