Open plan offices: Key Advantages and Disadvantages

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Key benefits of open-plan offices

Hot-desking: Less space needed

A key advantage of an open office floorplan is that it has the potential to reduce the office space that is required. Particularly if employees are not assigned a desk (sometimes referred to as hot-desking, where they take whatever desk is available), it can substantially reduce the amount of office space that is required. 

The possibility of space-saving may be of particular importance with the rise of hybrid working arrangements – employees spending some time in the office and some time at home. In a post-covid world, where employees have become accustomed to working from home for large periods of time, an open plan office with no assigned seats may a particularly attractive option for firms looking to provide the option for employees to work from home, while also saving on office costs. 

Making management more accessible

An open office environment can also help make management more accessible, and aware of the day-to-day operations of the company. When management has their own private offices, there is a danger that employees feel very reluctant to go to their offices and share information. Similarly, management, is more separated from the general office environment, without the visibility of what is going on in the company.

Having an open plan environment, which puts management in a similar office environment to the rest of the company, can help reduce these barriers and visibility issues – giving management greater oversight of the day to day operations of the company, while also making it easier for employees to get to know when and casually share information.

Increase chance meetings between employees

Being having greater access to management, an open office environment is also likely to result in employees who may not typically interact with one another getting to know each other. This can lead to greater cooperation between employees, while also opening the possibility that chance meetings will lead to creative problem-solving. Increasing the likelihood that employees in different parts of the organization will get to know each other can reduce silos in the firm. 

Greater transparency - avoids employee time wasting

A final benefit of having an open-floorplan office is that it provides greater visibility of employee behaviors. While no one may notice if someone is spending most of their day browsing the internet or on social media within their own private office, having a public open office environment reduces the tendency for employees to waste time. 

Limitations of open-plan offices

While there are many advantages of open-plan offices, there are also some key disadvantages that can limit the effectiveness of the setup:

Possibility of distractions with public conversations

One of the primary disadvantages of open-plan offices is that they are often associated with distractions. Without dedicated offices, employees don’t have price spaces to take calls or individual discussions – instead, all conversations can be overheard by the entire office. One-on-one conversations can quickly turn into large group discussions, potentially wasting time for a large number of employees, while being distracting for those who are trying to work. 

Harder to have private conversations

A related disadvantage of having discussions held more publicly is that an organization may not want all employees to become aware of issues immediately. While there are key advantages of having employees involved in strategic decisions, there may still be some decisions that you want to privately decide among a small group of individuals before more widely disseminating the information within the company. Having public discussions preemptively may cause uncertainty within the firm. Even if meetings are held in private conference rooms, having employees working on private issues on computers surrounded by others, may cause the information to gradually leak out. 

Not all employees like working open plan

IT is also important to recognize that not all employees like working in a shared open-plan environment. Having an office may be considered a perk of the job, and taking that away to replace the setup with an open plan environment may cause the feeling of loss of status. 

Greater access to management may reduce attention on bigger picture decisions

Finally, the greater access that employees have to management – the possibility of stopping by to ask questions, can potentially be a big distraction from larger strategic issues of the organization. While there are many benefits of reducing the barrier for lower employees to discuss their questions with management, a balance is also important – if too much of managerial time is spent focused on dealing with employee-related questions or concerns, it may cause management to loose focus on some other key issues impacting the company.

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