John Edwards on open or closed office environments


Is an open or closed office environment better?

This article examines the difference between open plan office and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each. Open plan offices have become more common place nowadays. Some organisations like WeWork take this one step further an offer open plan and shared office space to multiple companies, organisations and freelances all working in the same space.

Open plan office space allows for a collaborative environment where people can share ideas with each other easily. If people had to walk between multiple rooms it would make regular collaboration more difficult, colleagues may not ask for second advice on things that they would have otherwise, as the adage goes; ‘two heads are better than one’.

When it comes to sharing ideas, immediate feedback is often needed as the project cannot move forward without all parties agreeing. It would take a lot more time to write the details accurately into an email then wait for a response.

Open plan offices can remove an ‘us and them mentality.’ You can clearly see that all departments are working towards the common goal. Sometimes isolation can be divisive, create divisions and a culture of blaming others.

Open plan offices are a more effective use of space. The space required for an open plan office is much smaller than for a closed office. Although it might not be advisable to make an office to crowded it is a reality that some businesses do not have the space to spare.

There are some disadvantages to the open plan office space. A study by Oxford Economics found that 59% of workers find open plan office environments to be a distraction. Couple this with the fact that it can take the distracted person up to 30 mins to fully re-engage with a task.

In some businesses open plan offices can be inappropriate. A possible solution to this is to create a quiet area sectioned off from the main office for people to work when they have an important task that requires extra attention. If the overall noise level is too much then placing some acoustic panels strategically around the office can reduce some of the background noise and help with concentration.

As mentioned previously communication is much easier in a shared office and you can talk to colleagues easily as they are sitting a short walk away. You can also see if they are at their desks, busy with another task, or just head down working hard with another project and won’t want to be disturbed.

Some businesses a closed office is a must, if you are discussing personal matters with a customer, they would not be impressed sitting in a public space! In stressful jobs that require high levels of concentration for long periods of time an open environment may not be conducive to a productive environment.

A closed office space may not be easy to supervise. Some employers and middle managers would like to keep an on new employees to offer them advice or to make sure that they are on task. Although some studies have suggested that productivity increases in a closed environment.

In conclusion I think that what is best will depend very much on the industry as which is better for that company. An open plan office should cater for people that would like to work in silence by offering a quiet space when needed, and should use acoustic panels, boards, and effective space planning to reduce nuisance noise. If an closed office is decided to be better for that company than a collaborative area should be created where ideas can be exchanged, projects can be shared and plans can be pieced together.

What do you think?

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