Is an Open Plan Office Layout Right for Your Business? / by Crystal Wimperis

Pros and Cons of Open Office Layouts

In recent years, many businesses have moved from a traditional office layout of cubicles, offices, and partitions, to a more open floor plan. This allows collaboration between departments and employees. Open office plans are more fun, too, and can allow for creative, colorful spaces.

But before deciding on an open layout, there are some considerations for you and your business. Read on for our list of pros and cons so you can make the best office layout decision for your business.


Pro #1: Collaboration

Ease of collaboration is the primary reason that businesses consider an open plan office layout. By tearing down walls, cubicles, and other partitions, businesses are able to create a friendly, interactive workplace where employees may easily share ideas and ask questions.

Workplace friendships are another benefit, too. Gone are the days where employees have ninety seconds to chat while the coffee brews; with an open floor plan, employees are more likely to engage with each other and create lasting bonds outside of the workplace.

Open layouts make collaboration fun, too. Businesses often bring in whiteboards or flip boards so employees can share their ideas in fun, visual ways.

Pro #2: Productivity

An open office layout has another huge benefit: easier access to business necessities like printers or file drawers. No more long halls and locked rooms! And no more unpleasant surprises, like finding a coworker printing a 200-page document.

With an open floor plan, businesses may opt to put printing/fax machines and shared file cabinets in a central location, so it's quicker and easier for all employees to reach. Furthermore, you can see when someone is at the printer, so you may hold off a few minutes on your own print job.

Ease of communication is a big plus, too. Open layouts promote conversation about business challenges or opportunities. Plus, it's easy for coworkers to answer one another's questions when they're not separated by walls.

Finally, management oversight is easier in an open office layout. Leadership can see who's in the office, whether they're working or chatting, and what types of projects they're on.


Pro #3: Creativity

Let's be honest: long, grey hallways and stuffy offices with artificial light don't exactly promote creativity. It's important that if businesses are challenging employees to "think outside the box," they take it literally and "think outside the cubicle!"

Open office layouts are a great opportunity to incorporate color and design in a way that encourages creative thinking. Without walls and partitions, there's also more room for inspiring features like beanbag chairs, game tables, or treadmill desks. After all, there's nothing like a few minutes of foosball to get the creative energy flowing!

Many open offices also use standing desks as part of their general effort to move to a bright and creative office. This is a great perk for most people who find their energy waning in the afternoon hours.

Con #1: Health

Okay, on to the downsides of an open office layout...Let's start with the spread of germs!

Unfortunately, by opening up an office layout, a business is removing literal barriers to the spread of illness. In the traditional office floor plan, an ill employee is able to keep to him or herself, meaning their office is the only place full of germs. But in an open layout, these germs are free to roam about.

This can cause more sick days, which is bad for workers and the company. It can also annoy or distract employees who have to listen to coughing from across the room.

Con #2: Distractions

Speaking of distraction...this may be the biggest downside to an open layout. By opening up the workplace, employees will face more visual and audible distraction as their coworkers walk around or talk to others.

Better collaboration is a "catch 22." While it's easier for coworkers to ask questions of one another, it's also possible that the person being asked is in the middle of a tough project or complex problem. Repeated distractions of this sort can slow productivity.

Also, employees might worry about the comings and goings of their co-workers - even for approved time off like doctor's appointments. The last thing you want is for your own employees to start clock-watching their coworkers.


Con #3: Lack of Privacy

The final downside to an open office layout is lack of privacy, especially for HR-related events like interviewing and firing. It's impossible to ignore things like fresh faces wearing fancy suits, or distraught and crying employees. If HR events are common for your business, keep in mind that an open layout may not be your best bet.

Another downside is that employees may easily view confidential data on one another's computer screens, or overhear private telephone conversations with vendors or clients. You certainly don't want your business' confidential information getting into the wrong hands, so keep this in mind when evaluating alternatives.

There is a Happy Medium for an Office Layout

It's clear that an open office floor plan has many benefits, but if the downsides worry you, don't fret. There are ways to mitigate these concerns.

First, ensure your layout includes ample "breakout" rooms where employees can log in to their PCs to perform confidential activities or make private calls. You may also consider screen protectors on computer monitors so that people walking by cannot easily see what someone is working on.

Breakout rooms can also help prevent distractions. If an employee is preparing to work on something complex, they can easily shut themselves in a room. Also, some companies encourage the occasional use of headphones, which serve as a "do not disturb" sign for coworkers.

To prevent the spread of illness, place hand sanitizer and desk wipes around the office. Also, encourage employees to stay home (or work from home) if they feel ill.

There is a wide range of considerations for any business wanting an open layout - including the size of the space, number of employees, and type of work performed. If you're considering an open layout, we'd love to help you with the planning and design for your business needs.

Give us a call today to start talking through design trend options!