Once upon a time, the open-plan office was the utopian workspace ideal of the future. Based on the premise of lower furniture costs and increased teamwork, open plan offices are now the standard layout in the 21st century, from tiny tech startups to huge global corporations.
More and more studies about worker productivity are finding that open-plan offices are detrimental to both business and staff interests. What are the reasons for this backlash?
The fundamental cornerstone of the open plan layout is transparency. However, when workers feel that they have nothing to hide and are simply trying to do their job, this layout can cause something of a Big Brother effect and lower staff morale.
Open-plan aims to increase productivity by allowing for problems to be shared and solved in collaboration. However, according to a 2014 study about how people perform in open plan offices productivity can be threatened by constant distractions from others. Workers were found to lose an average of 86 minutes a day due to not being allowed to solely focus on their tasks at hand.
With interruptions playing a large part in people’s working environment thanks to open-plan, the 2014 study cited above also found that 9 out of 10 workers suffered from stress. Stress-related sickness is a recurring problem that leads a depleted workforce and higher business costs. If you have a high staff absence rate in your open plan office, it may be time to consider a change of layout.
We aren’t suggesting that you immediately ditch an open plan office design. As with anything, there is always a happy medium. Talk to your staff members and see what they like and dislike about their current office space. You may find that some key issues are brought up by several people. Take their concerns on board and then try to formulate a layout that suits their needs.
There is no be-all and end-all when it comes to office layout. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different seating or cubicle structure. However, be wary of disruption to your employees. If you are shifting the furniture round every week, you might find that this interferes with their productivity. Better still, try out a new layout for at least two weeks (ideally a month) before listening to employee feedback and studying their key performance indicators. Then you will be able to weigh up the results of each trial before making a final decision.
As with many things in life, compromise is key. Even if you find that your open plan office is performing productively, you may want to give certain areas more privacy in order for some tasks to be focused on away from the main floor space.
Not sure whether open-plan is right for your business? Get in touch to learn more about how we can help with your decision.