Should you go open plan? The pros and cons

By October 16, 2019 The Office

If you’re looking at new office space then chances are you’ve been umming and ahhing over the layout of your digs. Do you go for individual offices, cubicles or get rid of the walls altogether and follow in Google’s footsteps with an open plan office? 

But before you reorganise completely, consider the pros and cons of the open plan office, and decide whether or not it’ll suit your business. Some companies thrive on it, whereas others find the drawbacks to be too detrimental to productivity. We’ve compiled the pros and cons for you here, to help you make an informed decision. 

The pros

1. Better communication

The first thing to improve when you remove walls between people is the communication. Without individual offices, employees will naturally collaborate and work as a team, even across different departments. Rather than dropping an email or a phone call, people can take a short walk across the office to get their questions answered. It even helps make managers feel more approachable, and creates a strong sense of community. 

An open office design is also great if you have freelancers or remote workers who may not be in the office as much as others. Self-employed or part-time people will still be able to feel like part of the team when they are in, and can also benefit from the increased communication and networking opportunities. 

So get rid of the walls and be prepared for the sharing of opinions, a creative flow of ideas and increased innovation.

2. Cost-effective

A benefit that will immediately bring a smile to the face of any business owner; open plans offices are considered to be much more cost-effective compared to private offices or traditional cubicles. Without the need for huge individual desks, cubicle walls and overheads, all you have to think about is the necessary equipment for each person and you’re good to go.

Opting for an open plan office is far cheaper than renting an entire office building or floor, as many of the essentials you need to run a business – like common areas, internet and sometimes even printers – are already included in the price. So you can reinvest the money back into the company to help it grow.

3. Increased flexibility

With traditional offices, what you see is what you get. And while it’s not impossible to change a traditional layout, it would be rather expensive and difficult to do so. 

On the other hand, an open plan office means you don’t have to commit to any single layout and the location of desks and chairs can be changed quickly and easily to suit any changing requirements you may have, therefore maximising flexibility. As your business grows and you bring more employees on board, you can rearrange as you see fit. All it takes is a bit of time and muscle power.

4. It looks better

While cubicles do provide more privacy (more on this later), they’re not exactly the most stylish option out there. Of course, design and technology has changed which allows for trendier office looks, but you can’t deny the aesthetic allure of the clean cut open plan office. 

Open offices have smooth lines and trendy vibes that you just can’t replicate with cubicles. Nothing beats it. More natural light, airy spaces and a much better atmosphere.

5. No barriers

We’ve already talked about the physical barriers that get removed when you opt for an open plan office, but it also breaks down the invisible mental barriers that so many employees feel. When you work in an open plan office, there is nothing to separate employees from managers, who can often be guilty of hiding away in an office, making them seem unapproachable. 

Without barriers, even the newest employee won’t be at risk of feeling like they’re on the lowest rung of a career ladder, as the founder will be sat right alongside them. Everyone will feel like a valued part of the team.

The cons

1. Distractions

With increased communications and collaboration unfortunately comes more distractions. There will be multiple conversations going on around you, ranging from work-related problems to discussions over the latest episodes, both in-person and over the phone, and it can be incredibly difficult to tune out. You might even start to notice people’s little habits, like foot tapping or loud chewing. All of this could end up having a negative impact on productivity. 

There is also a risk of cliques beginning to form, even though you work in an office full of adults. Quiet staff can sometimes become overpowered by those who are more vocal and confident – as it literally does boil down to the person who shouts loudest in an open plan office – and if these people feel siloed then all the positivity of open communication can be ruined.

If you do opt for an open plan layout, you’ll have to come up with a few innovative ways to make sure everyone stays focused. This could be allowing people to work with headphones in or encouraging people to take conversations or meetings elsewhere to minimise distractions.

2. Increased stress

If you are surrounded by your colleagues and managers, you’re going to want to give the appearance of constant productivity, even if you are working efficiently. This can lead to multitasking and juggling tasks, which can be both frustrating and ineffective, and in turn cause increased paranoia and anxiety. For these reasons, more distractions and a complete lack of privacy can dramatically increase a person’s stress. 

3. No privacy

Leading on from the point about distractions comes another drawback of no privacy. Every business has confidential information, ranging from finances to HR, and there are times when certain subjects need to be discussed in private. Although you can get around this by having one or two small meeting rooms where such discussions can be held.

This lack of privacy can also have its benefits as staff are more likely to stay focused on their work and keep personal and private calls, texts and emails to a minimum.

4. More germs

How many times have you gone into work when you perhaps shouldn’t have done? Maybe when you were fighting off the back end of a cold? If you’re sitting in a closed office or cubicle, you’re less likely to spread any germs, but without those barriers, they are more likely to impact your employees. It’s bad enough when one employee is off sick, but imagine the nosedive in productivity if everyone is off with the same illness. 

There isn’t much can be done to avoid the spread of germs, apart from encouraging good hygiene practices amongst your employees. Put up signs in the bathroom to remind of the importance of washing hands, make hand and desk sanitiser readily available, and encourage people to staff home if they feel sick.

 

The open plan office isn’t for everyone, and there are drawbacks to adopting it for your business. But before you make a decision, weigh each one up and decide just how much of an impact it will have, and whether or not a positive outshines the negative. It might just be worth it in the long run.