The Pros and Cons of Open-Plan Offices

December 12, 2016 Pete Jansons

 

Elevated View Of Workers In Busy Modern Design Office

The workspace arrangement at your small business can have a major impact on office life. Many modern companies favor an “open-plan” environment of one large area of shared space that lacks distinct rooms. Though many believe open-plan offices promote productivity and collaboration, some believe they may do more damage than good. So before embracing this trend, take time to examine how such a design may help or hinder your company’s objectives. Here’s what to consider:

Open-plan offices promote the “we’re all in this together” mindset.

Literally working side by side without regard to hierarchy can set a tone that every employee is vital to your small business’s success. Millennials especially can be drawn to this concept of easy access to anyone regardless of position, so you may be able to use it as a selling point when recruiting.

Growth can be accommodated.

Small businesses that regularly add employees often find an open layout allows greater flexibility, minimizes construction costs and cuts down on moving around existing workers. New hires can be positioned near the people they need most to get them up to speed, and many supplies can be shared communally.

Spontaneous interaction may increase.

Proponents of open arrangements stress that this setup promotes collaboration. Great ideas can come out of impromptu conversations, and bringing colleagues in on discussions may be easier because they are quickly accessible rather than tucked away elsewhere.

Privacy can be compromised.

People sharing the same quarters often can’t help overhearing others talk, and computer screens and email messages may be viewed by those passing by. Small businesses that deal with sensitive information particularly need to be aware of this potential danger. Possible solutions can include restaurant-style privacy booths and closed-door rooms available as needed.

Productivity may suffer.

Despite a worker’s best efforts to focus, it can be difficult to tune out nearby conversations or not glance around to see what colleagues are doing. Some companies have responded by broadcasting “pink noise” from speakers to make human speech less discernable. Employees too have gotten creative — stacking books or positioning filing cabinets as make-shift distraction blockers and wearing headphones both to cover their ears and to discourage others from interrupting. Such measures, however, can be cumbersome and rather contrary to the theory behind open-plan offices.

It may not be good for your staff’s physical and mental health.

Research finds that companies with open-plan offices can expect employees to take 62 percent more sick leave. Shared resources and close, frequent interaction can cause a lone employee’s sniffles to quickly become the whole staff’s cold. But germs aren’t the only negative to consider in terms of health. Workers often report stress from continually operating in a communal space. When employees feel as if they are on display and unable to control their surroundings, it can contribute to problems such as anxiety and high blood pressure. For small businesses where job satisfaction ratings are low and turnover is high, an alternate office structure may be just what the doctor ordered.

 

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