The Power of an Open Office Space: Good or Evil?

Shannon HudspethEmployee Benefits, Human Resource Consulting

Forward thinking iconic Silicon Valley organizations like Google and Facebook started the wave that is known as the open office space. The open office space is an office layout that removes all of the physical barriers between employees-No walls, no cubicles, just desks and people.

Born from the spirit of collaboration (and a desire to maximize productivity per square foot) open office layouts have been adopted by businesses all over the country. But has it been an epic win or an epic fail?  It’s both. Let me explain.

If you type in a search engine query for “open office space”, it doesn’t look so good for the open floor plan. You’ll see results claiming that the open office space is oppressive an environment, a nightmare, and likens the trend to a viral outbreak decimating businesses all over the world (that’s taking it a little far, but that’s the gist of it).

Yet there are still some organizations that sing the praises of the open office space and talk about the tangible benefits they’ve seen in workforce and their profits as a result. It’s obviously a mixed bag and it’s tough to call this one, so let’s break it down.

Here are some pros and cons from both sides of the discussion.

Open Floor Plan Praise

  • It  fosters collaboration
  • Employees feel more comfortable in the space
  • By stripping down physical barriers, it promotes an openness in communication which sparks camaraderie and establishes a stronger sense of team
  • It allows management to have a more hands on “real world” view of the office dynamics
  • Increases productivity

Open Floor Plan Complaints

  • No privacy
  • Causes anxiety in employees due to the fact that everything an employee does is “under the microscope”
  • Hard to concentrate and focus
  • Employees can feel that the interaction with coworkers is “forced” and uncomfortable
  • It causes a divide between employees in the open space and managers in their offices
  • Decreases productivity

 There are valid arguments on both sides of the coin (and some conflicting ones). On one side, the big dot com organizations embrace the concept and are reporting an increase in morale and productivity with the open floor plan in place. In fact in 2015, Facebook moved to a new facility and created the largest open office floor plan in the world.

So, if it’s working for the big guys, Can it be that bad?

Will the Open Office Space work for my business?

From what Facebook says, employees can thrive in the environment and your business can reap the benefits of increased morale and productivity.

 However, employees are people, we’re all unique individuals and what works for one of us, may not work for another. Giving employees no choice but to be on display in front of all of their coworkers will ultimately present a problem for some individuals.

 Organizations like Facebook and Pixar attract employees with the personality for it. That is, professionals who apply for jobs at those organizations know going in that the open floor plan is part of the culture, and it’s something they’re content with. So if you’re a business looking to make a switch to an open office space, it’s not something employees signed up for, so it could meet with some resistance.

Balance is Key: The Hybrid Floor Plan

If you’re thinking about shifting to an open floor plan, consider a hybrid that combines elements of both traditional and open plans. This mix will encourage the collaboration, and create a level of comfort that an open office space is meant for, and at the same time will give the employees an option for more privacy. Sounds like it could be a winner.

Here are a couple simple things to try:

·         Create an open office space floor plan but include some privacy rooms where employees can break away and be on their own, make phone calls, and have some privacy.

·         If space is an issue, conversely you can keep the traditional floor plan in place and create some “open areas” in the office where employees can break out in small groups to collaborate.

The Verdict

The idea of the open office space is a good one, but taken to the extreme it can apparently be problematic and counter-productive. The goal is to create a comfortable space for employees – a “home away from home” helps employees to feel good about their day when they’re putting in long hours. You have to first know your employees and what makes them tick, then you can create an environment that strikes a balance and works for your unique team.

The professionals at Sinclair have a proven history of success in Human Resources. Our staff has the ability to become an integral part of your organization, understanding your products and services, your culture, and your processes. Feel free to get in touch with us anytime for a consultation.

Shannon Hudspeth
Human Resource Director
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