Saad Raja, Debate, Open Plan,Workspaces

Saad Raja on Open Plan Workspaces

Company workspaces are important and they often trigger plenty of debate. In recent years, the open plan offices are a growing trend and they’re now the most popular style of workspace. Depending on who you ask, open plan is either a beneficial environment for communication and co-operation or a failing set-up that reduces concentration and productivity.

Understanding the pros and cons of open plan office spaces is important when you’re deciding what type of environment you want to create…

Open plan offices – the pros

According to the International Facility Management Association, nearly 70 per cent of US office workers are now in open space instead of enclosed cubicles. First pioneered by Germans in the 1950s, open plan work spaces are designed to promote teamwork and free communication in the workplace. Colleagues can talk to each other and ask for help and advice without barriers, meaning that work is done quicker.

Open workspaces also promote camaraderie in the workplace, as this open communication means that people are more likely to communicate in person. This sense of community, in turn, can help to boost company morale and gives employees an added impetus to do well and keep a positive attitude about their goals and projects. Employee progress is easy to chart and monitor in open spaces as everyone is in plain sight. This constant visualisation prompts workers to constantly keep up a pace of work and assures that they remain on task.

Employers also benefit financially from open plan spaces. Overheads are lower as the cost of equipment and office space is minimised. Cubicles require a set amount of space and building materials to create, unnecessary in open plans. Costs tied to construction and utilities are reduced, as well as lower heating and cooling expenses due to an improved flow of air and light.

Open plan offices – the cons

Although many businesses embrace open plan working life, others see the negatives. While communication is encouraged, this can lead to more noise in the workplace which is distracting and can reduce efficiency. Noise leads to over-stimulation, the constant movement and conversations easily disrupting workers.

Companies operating with confidential or high-risk information may also find it harder to control privacy in open settings. As all phone conversations are easier to overhear and computer screens are more visible, which can cause potential problems. The lack of privacy inherent in open plan designs may cause legal or ethical issues stemming from compromised confidentiality in regard to clients or colleagues.

The business as a whole may also be affected by these issues. Work rates can decrease and staff can become slower at finishing tasks. Distractions caused by conversations, phone calls and interactions can cause lower efficiency.  Open plan environments can cause disease to spread more easily, causing a higher rate of sick days and absentee employees.

Achieving a healthy balance

Fit your office space to your type of company. The culture that you create is key and sets a precedent for your business.

Employees do benefit from collaborative workspaces, but they also need to have places they can retreat to in order to process interactions. Privacy is still important for concentration and confidentiality.

To achieve this balance, try creating private spaces in an otherwise open-plan space. This will provide employees with a closed environment for crucial times, while still enjoying the benefits of a more open and communicative environment. When employees feel empowered to shift their work environment, depending on the type of work they’re doing, it can increase their morale and their performance.

Consider other environmental factors in your office space. You can improve productivity through ensuring a good flow of air, using natural lighting and access to green spaces. Whether you choose an open plan or closed office space, all of these factors are what will improve employees’ health and efficiency.

– Saad Raja

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