Are Open Office Layouts Efficient?

Open office layouts are popular among today’s businesses because they supposedly encourage collaboration and save office space. But are they really that beneficial? Read about the pros and cons of open office layouts here.

In an age when almost 70% of U.S. offices use open office layout plans, isn’t it time we ask whether or not this fad is cost-efficient? Some of the most prominent companies in the tech industry, in fact, have jumped on this bandwagon. Google has famously declared itself an advocate for open office layouts. Facebook, too, has opened up its floor space. Other tech companies have followed. Should your company fall in line?

Why Are Companies Moving Toward Open Office Layout Plans?

There are some good arguments in favor of the open office layout plan. Here are a few:

  • It encourages collaboration among employees
  • It saves the company money on rent since more people can take up less space
  • Managers can sit with their groups or teams as opposed to walling themselves off in a private office
  • It can be more efficient with the right design

Some of these are fabulous arguments, but just because a company can save money on rent or floor space doesn’t mean that savings leads to overall business efficiency. Other factors are work and should be examined.

The Downside to Open Office Layouts

Every upside has a downside. If that isn’t a business maxim, it should be. So what are the downsides to companies using the open office layout?

  • Many employees find the constant noise a distraction
  • A chatty employee may constantly interrupt others
  • The wrong layout can lead to great inefficiencies, making the open office layout counterproductive
  • If employees need privacy, they can’t have it
  • In many offices, employees sit at their desks with headsets on or totally ignore each other instead of collaborating

Every employee is different. They have their own personalities, work habits, ways of managing work, and other differences that might push against the open office layout. Introverts are generally distracted by the heightened noise levels while extroverts thrive on and appreciate the personal interaction.

Why You Should Twice Before Converting to the Open Office Floor Plan

Companies that have tried the open office floor plan have learned that not all employees appreciate its benefits. Some employees are leaving the office to work at Starbucks or at home.

On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t convert your floor space to an open office layout. Google, and other companies too, are more flexible, designing their floor space for specific needs. They may have a big room with a lot of desks where employees can meet, collaborate, and share ideas, but if those employees want a little more privacy or thinking space, then there is a place to go for that. If your company doesn’t have the space to pursue that kind of flexibility, weigh the benefits against the downsides to see if there might be another solution.

You should also seek input from your employees early on in the decision-making process. Would they be excited about the change? Are there design ideas they can think of that would enhance your workspace?

In designing your office layout, be sure to consider job tasks and workflow. In other words, if collaboration is a huge part of your business model, then you can get away with having a large open office area where discussions are encouraged and a smaller private work area for those who need it. However, if you have a large number of employees who need silence to be more productive, then you may need a larger work area that is a “no-talk zone”. In that case, you could have a smaller area designed for collaboration.

In a word, the most efficient office layout plan is going to be the one that facilitates the most productivity for the most employees. That may vary from department to department at your business, but you should perform a thorough feasibility study before you decide.

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