Why an Open Plan Office Can be Bad for Your Business

Business colleagues working at a busy open plan office

No one wants to get boxed in. For a variety of reasons, packing people into small, tight cubicles has always been a depressing image that most companies would rather avoid.

This has led to the rise of open-plan offices: space where the traditional wall and cubicles have been taken down in favor of a larger, more open space that is more conducive for collaboration. Most office refurbishment projects in Sydney and other metropolitan areas have followed this design principle.

But is it really worth the effort? Surprisingly, there’s information compiled in the last couple of years indicating that switching to an open office design plan can be detrimental to the health, work ethic, and output of your workers.

Why is this the case?

There are several reasons open plan offices can seemingly backfire on the company’s goal of increasing collaboration. One of these reasons is that in an office setting, there will be a need for private, confidential conversations, which generally cannot happen in an open plan setting due to the lack of privacy.

This lack of privacy also extends to the spaces of the employees themselves. While hotdesking (the practice of leaving office desks as a free-for-all space where the first person to come takes the space) has steadily become more commonplace in many offices, the lack of a defined space can often make it very difficult for employees to associate where exactly the work gets done.

In addition to this, operating in an open environment can often generate consistent amounts of unwanted noise. While the dynamics of each particular employee you have can be different, there has to be a generally agreed upon noise level that your workplace can tolerate before it becomes disruptive.

Finally, open areas also provide greater amounts of distraction. Since there are no partitions to shield workers from outside stimuli that have nothing to do with their job, it can often be easy for them to lose focus when something happens around them.

So, how can workplaces address this?

Three women share a desk in a busy officeAs discussed earlier, having a completely enclosed setting is bad for employees. But it also seems that leaving them in open environments can be just as bad—just in different ways. So, how are workspaces supposed to deal with this design flaw?

One approach that’s being heavily considered is a common area: one where employees would have the freedom to interact and choose their working spaces and environment as they see fit. This would allow adequate space for open-air interaction without sacrificing the privacy and defined spaces of a usual office setting.

Another is to redefine the office space to include spaces where people can choose to mingle or work apart from others. This is a better approach for offices that can find the essential renovations required for a hybrid open-closed office plan to be difficult to implement immediately.

Finally, a key understanding of your employees and the way they interact with the space around them should always be informing any decisions regarding how office plans are designed. With the variety of industries and types of workers today, the best people to ask for input would undoubtedly be the ones who work in your space on a daily basis.

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