The Pros and Cons of an Open-Plan Office Layout
Published February 16, 2023
The open-plan office layout has been a popular office design for the longest time.
The idea behind the layout is to promote communication among employees by eliminating walls, dividers, and other obstacles separating the working spaces. It’s essentially the opposite of cubicles.
At first glance, it sounds like a noble concept. But upon further deliberation, one can conclude that it’s actually counterproductive. After all, if employees keep talking with each other, no work will get done.
Needless to say, an open-plan office layout offers several advantages but also drawbacks. In this article, we’ll take a look at those and determine if this layout is suitable for your office. Let’s start with the pros.
4 Pros of an Open-Plan Office Layout
An open-plan office layout can be beneficial in many ways, especially if the layout is compatible with your team members. However, there are four advantages that stand out the most.
1. Interactions Are Frequent
An open-plan office layout allows for more interactions to occur between your colleagues. And those interactions can lead to more positive effects, most of which have to do with your colleagues’ well-being.
Examples of the positive effects that may stem from more frequent interactions include:
- lower chances of absenteeism,
- lower staff turnover (percentage of employees that leave the company),
- higher employee loyalty,
- more seamless onboarding,
- lower chances of conflicts of interest, and
- alleviating boredom.
Most of these positive effects are self-explanatory. It essentially goes like this: if the team members interact more frequently, they become more attached to each other and, subsequently, to the company.
The frequent interactions may also contribute to the team’s onboarding efforts as new workers will be more at ease to talk to their seniors, so to speak. Of course, interactions won’t always be positive.
Some interactions may lead to arguments. But at the very least, employees can resolve these arguments immediately rather than letting the frustration build up and allowing such frustrations to affect their work and collaboration. And let’s not forget the apparent benefit of frequent interactions—it alleviates boredom.
2. Rearrangements Are More Seamless
Changes in seating arrangements are by no means welcomed by all workers.
Granted, it offers several benefits, such as newer types of interactions and experiences, but you’ll often hear arguments against rearrangements as employees fear a change would disrupt their performance.
That’s particularly true for offices with cubicles.
Moving from one cubicle to another can be pretty tedious. You have to gather your things, which may take a while, and move to a cubicle that likely has a different atmosphere. In other words, it generally sucks.
Though it’s still tedious if the rearrangement is taking place in an office that has an open-plan office layout, it’s to a lower degree, and for two main reasons:
- In an open-plan layout, employees don’t leave a lot of their stuff in a specific area, no matter how frequently they use that spot. As such, the packing will be less of a hassle and time-consuming.
- Unlike cubicles, the atmosphere throughout an open-plan office is roughly the same. As such, when a colleague moves to a different spot, they won’t have to deal with a change in atmosphere.
In summary, changes in seating arrangements in an open-plan office layout generally go more smoothly and faster than rearrangements in a cubicle-based office. Since the rearrangement would go faster, the team would also benefit since there would be lower downtime during the moving process.
3. The Overall Design Is Visually Aesthetic
Not everyone would admit it, but the main reason why most managers consider the open-plan office layout is the prospect of having a better-looking office. It allows workers to showcase their creativity when setting up their workspaces, which often leads to an office with several areas featuring diverse aesthetics.
And while it sounds superficial, the benefits of an aesthetically pleasing office go far beyond just looking great. An aesthetic office can also lead to an improvement in KPIs, and here are several reasons why:
- It minimizes absenteeism and tardiness as workers are more willing to go to work at earlier times.
- It reduces stress and improves workers’ mental health.
- It can make the company look better to shareholders and prospective investors.
- It encourages workers to put more effort into their work.
These benefits are precisely why managers of established companies often take steps to improve their office’s design. While it’s not the only way, adapting an open-plan office layout is one way to go about it.
4. Renovations Will Be Cheaper
Apart from changes in the seating arrangements, it’s also common for office managers to change the workplace’s overall layout. And both have the same purpose—to provide employees with new experiences.
Like seating rearrangements, renovating an office can be tedious, time-consuming, but, most importantly, costly. That’s particularly true for workplaces with cubicles and separate working areas for each worker.
That’s because to renovate a cubicle-based workplace, there is a need to restructure the walls, dividers, and other parts of the office, and that can be costly. On the other hand, to renovate an open-plan office layout, there’s no need to restructure walls or dividers because there aren’t any, so it’s much cheaper.
To conclude, an open-plan office layout not only contributes to the well-being of your colleagues but can also contribute to the company’s bottomline, so it’s a win-win for everyone. But is it?
3 Cons of an Open-Plan Office Layout
As much as you’d like to adopt an open-plan office layout for your workplace, it’s not suitable for every office or team. There are firms, teams, or agencies that would benefit more from a cubicle-based layout, and that’s mostly because open-plan offices have their fair share of drawbacks. Here are some examples:
1. There Is a Lack of Privacy
Privacy is important to everyone, albeit in varying degrees, depending on the individual.
That’s especially true for specific firms. For example, employees of accounting firms would appreciate having a personal space since their work requires concentration, and concentration often requires quiet.
Granted, not everyone needs silence or privacy to concentrate their creativity, but the vast majority do. And if your team is mainly composed of these kinds of individuals, an open-plan office layout isn’t for you.
2. It Can Raise Anxiety among Employees
One of the benefits that upper management sees from open-plan office layouts is that it allows supervisors to monitor employees without restrictions. After all, they don’t need to enter your cubicle to check what you’re doing. They can simply look in your general direction from a couple of meters away.
Alas, most employees think of this as a bad thing since no one wants to be monitored or checked every few minutes. It can raise one’s anxiety, and that’s a detriment open-plan layouts can bring to the office.
3. Distractions Would Be Rampant
Interactions in an office are good and all, but they do have the caveat of potentially being a distraction.
Not everyone can work effectively while talking to someone, after all, and that’s the main disadvantage of an open-plan office layout. And it doesn’t only apply to actively talking to someone in the office, either.
Even if a worker is intently trying to focus on their work, distractions like background noises, clutter, and unpleasant odors can still disrupt their concentration. Put simply; these distractions reduce productivity.
Upon hearing these pros and cons, it’s safe to say that an open-plan office layout isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Not all workplaces will benefit from it, which begs the following question:
When Is an Open-Plan Office Layout Best?
Every workplace is unique in its own way, so there’s really no telling if your workplace would benefit from an open-plan office layout. However, we found that firms, teams, and agencies from specific industries or fields are the most likely to benefit from this kind of office layout. These include:
- advertising and marketing companies,
- graphic design,
- software development, and
- visual arts.
The main reason why these industries tend to benefit a lot from the open office concept is that the work involved in these fields often requires collaboration and teamwork.
Software development teams, for example, must keep in touch with one another to ensure a smooth sailing project, and an open-plan office layout promotes that kind of workflow.
The same applies to other industries and fields.
That being said, firms and agencies that are unlikely to benefit from an open-plan office layout are those that don’t require much collaboration but rather independence, like accounting firms and law firms.
The open-plan office layout concept is by no means a secret recipe for success. The only reason why people treat it as such is that it’s incredibly effective. The problem is it’s only effective for specific teams, and there’s no way of telling if your team will benefit from it unless you implement it yourself. With this guide, however, you should, at the very least, get a better understanding of the concept.
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About The Author
Lenard Arceo is an experienced writer who enjoys learning to coding as a hobby. He has spent many years blogging about a vast array of topics and has helped many reputable websites grow their audience over the years.