In today’s workplace, the open office is ubiquitous. The idea of an open plan was originally intended to foster teamwork and encourage creative thinking, but the downside is the potential for distraction and lack of privacy. Of course, workers need to interact with one another, but when you’re constantly in the presence of your co-workers, sometimes it can feel like just too much contact.
Too Much Noise
The main complaint of workers who are in open-plan offices is noise – because there are so many people in the office, and there are no walls, you can’t help but overhear conversations that people are having with colleagues or clients, be it in person or on the phone. Often, the creative sharing that was intended for the development of the open plan office is inhibited, because workers keep their conversations short – they’re reluctant to have others listening. And to tune out their co-workers, people sometimes resort to headphones or earplugs.
Not Enough Noise
Paradoxically, in some types of open offices, the complaint is that it’s too quiet. This is particularly the case with open offices where workers are seated at desks that are arranged in rows, like in a classroom. Again, this causes a problem with communication. If conversations are easily overheard in noisy offices, it’s, even more, the case in quiet ones.
Other issues that people who occupy open plan offices find bothersome are personal use of cell phones with loud ring tones, people eating unpleasant-smelling foods at their desks, and “borrowing” anything that’s not nailed down. This contributes to employee dissatisfaction and can lower productivity. There can also be a higher turnover in staff when people are unhappy with their work environment.
Benefits of Open Plan Offices
Of course, it’s not all bad. If it were, open plan offices would have gone the way of the dodo long ago. From the perspective of a business owner, the open plan concept makes sense – no walls means more efficient use of space and an environment that’s cheaper to heat. It’s also easy to change the floor plan as new departments or workers are added.
There’s also a school of thought that believes that when managers occupy offices, this creates an “ivory tower” mentality that creates a division amongst hierarchies. The effect on communication is believed to be adverse.
Is an Open Office Plan a Good Idea?
This, of course, is what it all boils down to – is an open office plan a good thing or a bad thing for your particular business? Sure, it makes sense financially, but what about all the negatives – the problems that can lead to decreased worker satisfaction and result in poor performance and problems with communication?
Often, the effectiveness or lack thereof depends on the type of business. In advertising, communication, and media services, the open plan office is probably still the better way to go. Think about it – even before the open plan office came to be considered innovative, it was the norm in print media. In decades past, you could walk into any newsroom in the country, and the only person who had an office was the managing editor. Of course, in other types of business, for example, where client confidentiality is very important, an open office plan may not work.
Basically, it’s all about performance – so, what does your business need in order for it to progress and grow most effectively? There’s still a place for the open plan office in today’s business world, but it may not be the ideal arrangement for every workplace.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.