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Should Modern Businesses Embrace Open Concept Office Floor Plans?

December 13, 2019 | by Viveka Krishnaswamy
Reviewed by real estate expert Jonathan Tootell

There is no single way to design an office. Based on your own personal experience working in an office environment, or even on repeated viewings of TV shows set in offices, most of us have an idea of what we think an office space is supposed to look like. But the truth is that each business’s own unique needs should dictate how its office layout is designed. In this post, we’ll go over what to consider when designing a floor plan for your office, explore the pros and cons of open concept floor plans, and go over viable alternatives to open offices.

Important factors to consider for your office floor plan

The office floor plan is like the blueprint for your office set up. It lays out where desks, chairs, couches, conference rooms, the breakroom, recreational space, office equipment, and other important pieces of furniture are located. An office floor plan can be as simple and unimaginative as rows and rows of desks, or laid back and casual with couches and chairs spread out willy-nilly. It should also take into account any important building code issues.

When determining your desired office floor plan, there are numerous factors that you will want to consider. Among them are:

  • How many employees and managers do you need to accommodate in your office space?
  • Are there people in upper management or executives who will require their own private offices?
  • How much conference room space do you anticipate needing on a regular basis for meetings?
  • Do your employees require a lot of privacy to do their work effectively (e.g. the ability to conduct regular phone calls), or do they tend to be focused on more team-oriented tasks?
  • Do you want to encourage a lively, open atmosphere in your office, or do you prefer an environment that is quieter?
  • Do you want to devote a substantial amount of space for recreation and lunch?

It is smart to answer questions like these at the outset, as it will help give you a better sense of what type of layout will best suit you and your workers.

Modern office layouts

The hallmark of the modern office has been the open plan layout. This layout has been common in some work environments – such as newsrooms – for many decades, but it proliferated in many other offices in recent years when cubicles were deemed too restrictive for workers and closed offices for managers were seen by some as too hierarchical.

Open concept definitions can vary widely. In some offices, it just means tearing down the walls, so there are still rows of desks, but employees can more easily see and interact with one another in face-to-face interactions. Others offer a greater variety in workspaces, providing not just desks, but also couches and overstuffed chairs where people can sit more comfortably to work and meet.

A key aspect of much modern office design is about the atmosphere it creates. Bright colors, plush office furniture, plenty of natural light, and fun touches like arcade games or foosball tables are offered to create a more inviting work environment. This welcoming style of design is redefining what was once considered a “professional” office space.

Open concept floor plan in well-lit office

Advantages of open concept floor plans

The popularity of open concept office floor plans is due to a number of benefits that they can offer the company and its employees. Some of these benefits include:

  • Increased creativity and outside-the-box thinking
  • Better collaboration among coworkers
  • A more open and egalitarian environment where hierarchies aren’t defined by the size of one’s office
  • Improved affordability for the company because the open concept office floor plan dispenses with the costs of partitions and walls
  • More physical activity for employees because of less rigid seating arrangements

Open concept office floor plans also provide overall greater flexibility for the company. This flexibility can come in the form of unassigned desks, so that teams can gather in whatever area works best for them on a given day. It can also mean that it is easier to rearrange the layout of the office space to respond to a company’s changing needs, whether it’s a change in the number of people on staff or a desire to alter the types of desks or office furniture provided for employees.

Are closed offices making a comeback?

Despite the many potential advantages, there has been a growing backlash against the idea that an open office concept is best for everyone. Some studies have indicated that the open concept office floor plans actually hurt productivity rather than enhancing it, and threaten to dampen employee morale in the workplace.

Some workers say they actually prefer a closed office environment because they feel that they are better able to avoid distractions around the office, steer clear of fellow employees who they don’t like, and focus on their work. It’s true that, at first glance, a cubicle may seem a bit dreary, but in reality it helps repel noise and offers employees the comfort of their own dedicated space. They can even put up family photos and posters and create a sense of a little “home away from home” for themselves if they like.

Better physical health can also be an advantage of closed office spaces, as the partitions can help to contain germs, especially when employees are suffering from colds or anything else that’s similarly contagious.

These are among the reasons that some are arguing for the return of the closed office. But perhaps an even better approach is to think of office layouts in less rigid terms and consider experimenting with different concepts to find the floor plan that best suits your company’s objectives.

Popular types of office layouts

The number of floor plans for offices are as many and varied as a person can imagine, but there are some basic concepts that one can start with as a guide when considering how to design an office space. These include:

Open concept floor plan

This has become the most widespread layout used in offices, with some estimates showing around 70% of offices embracing an open floor plan with few or no partitions separating workers. This office design removes barriers with the goal of facilitating communication and collaboration between colleagues.

Cubicle-based floor plan

The office filled with separate cubicles is a classic and is still utilized in many offices, especially in businesses where employees must be on the phone for a significant amount of their workday. Cubicles provide more privacy and a quieter space for employees.

Low-partition office floor plan

A low-partition layout offers an alternative to the cubicle that still creates a defined separation between workspaces while making it easier for employees to still be able to communicate with one another.

Team-based layout

This less common, but much-needed type of floor plan acknowledges the fact that in some businesses, tight-knit teams are constantly working together and deserve to have a workspace that facilitates those efforts. Team layouts typically provide three to six workspaces situated closely together, while providing a partition or space to give them distance from the other teams. This allows the team members to function in close proximity, while also enjoying privacy from the distraction of other employees.

Hybrid office layouts

As the drawbacks of open concept office floor plans become better understood, there is a greater interest in finding alternatives. That doesn’t have to mean simply throwing out the open concept entirely. There is still a lot to appreciate about open floor plans, so some designers believe the best approach is to create hybrid office plans that capture the best of both worlds.

Some hybrids plans have the majority of desks arranged according to an open concept office floor plan, but also provide an array of enclosed office spaces that can be reserved as needed for meetings and team efforts. Others create larger “private” offices designed to accommodate dedicated teams rather than individuals. Another solution is to assign cubicles or low-partition workspaces to individuals, while also providing plenty of open meeting tables and sofas for when employees need to confer with others or just want a change of atmosphere.

New ideas are constantly being devised to deal with the challenges of the workspace. The noise issue remains one of the most significant problems, which is what something like this “office pod” aims to deal with by providing a kind of private work booth when needed. Innovations like this one can be a key part of creating the ideal hybrid office space.

Designing your ideal office

A company should never consider its office layout to be an afterthought, as the floor plan will most certainly have an effect on the productivity and success of your employees. The office space has to accommodate many different needs and personalities, while facilitating a range of team goals and corporate objectives. Meeting these requirements is a challenge, and one that may demand a lot of flexibility and willingness to try different layouts.

Open concept office floor plans may no longer be considered the best choice by default, but aspects of the open concept can be combined with other layouts to create your ideal office design. It’s all about finding the right balance.

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