Open Plan Office Vs. Closed Office - The Pros and Cons
There has long been many debates and questions about which style of office is better, open or closed? The debate has been partly derailed by the coronavirus pandemic which saw thousands of workers worldwide abandoning their workstations and offices and setting up workspaces at home or remotely.
Is an open plan office even applicable or encouraged in a post pandemic world? Will it be safe to return to an open plan office? Do people, after working remotely for so long, want to return to an open plan office? Or a closed office? Or any office at all?!
A closed office could feel safer to return to but, could limit the interaction and communication that people previously enjoyed in an open plan office environment. Returning to an open office may initially feel strange for those who have become accustomed to working from home and remotely.
Before we ask ourselves too many questions about the Open vs Closed office in a post pandemic world we must understand the key differences between the two.
What is an Open Plan Office?
Open plan offices are workspaces that take advantage of open open space as opposed to employees working from cubicles or cellular offices. In an open plan office, you're likely to see long rows of desks with hardy any divisions or separators. Desktop and floor standing screens are also sparse.
Key features of an Open Plan Office:
Rows of desks with workers working side by side and face to face
None (or very few) room dividers, desktop or floor standing screens.
High levels of verbal communication between employees and employers.
Natural light. The lack of walls and partitions often allows natural light in.
What is a Closed Office?
A closed office supports individual and team working by using screens or fixed walls to create a separate office for every team or employee.This type of office can also support each department within the company by offering separate rooms and providing each team member with their own space.
Due to the fit out cost implications of creating a closed office, such as stud walls, separate air conditioning units and doors, it can mistakenly be overlooked and regarded as ‘old hat’ in favour of the more ‘trendy’ familiar open plan option.
There has been however, for some time, a desire to return to the closed office as it offers employees a quieter space to work and offers more privacy. It is for this reason acoustic pods, meeting pods, acoustic phone booths have often been introduced (to open offices) to create more of a closed office.
Key features of closed Office:
Separate desks and cellular offices.
Less noise or better acoustics than an open plan office.
A number of room dividers and screens defining workspaces.
Low levels of verbal communication between employees and employers.
Now that we have established the differences between an Open office and a Closed office we explore the Pros and Cons of both options.
Pros of an Open Office:
1. Better communication between workers
When an office lacks visual and physical barriers, employees are more likely to communicate with one another and work as a team. Naturally, improved communication boosts performance and collaboration.
Open plan offices are beneficial for freelancers or people who rent deskspace because there is a greater chance of communication and networking, which can be beneficial to their skillset and respective businesses.
There is a term for this phenomenon and it’s called ‘culture collision'; which is when chance encounters occur between workers in an open-office space. Many start-ups and businesses, working at shared desk space locations, have formed this way.
2. Open offices are flexible and can be changed around
Open-plan offices are flexible so you don't have to commit to a single layout. You can accommodate more people in an open plan environment and layouts can be changed or rearranged as your team grows. Changing desk locations and moving furniture can keep things fresh and visually interesting.
3. Open offices are cheaper and cost-effective
Creating an open plan office layout saves money on furnishing individual cellular offices and further office fit out costs such as partition walls, doors and air conditioning units. With employees working together on large shared-desks, companies can also spend less on shared IT equipment such as copiers, printers, and scanners. Open-plan offices are both cheaper to set up and maintain than closed cubicle style offices.
The Cons of an Open Office:
1. Open offices can be noisy and distracting
The biggest downside of open plan offices is that they can be really noisy if acoustic products such as wall tiles, plants and pods are not installed. Working together in close proximity means that it’s easy to be distracted by a colleague asking questions, or another colleague talking loudly on the phone. This excess noise, therefore, makes it challenging to have a clear conversation or one-to-ones.
2. Lack of privacy
Along with the noise and the distractions comes the lack of privacy. Making or taking private phone calls is difficult in open office environments, with some taking refuge outside or in the reception area. Acoustic phone booths have been introduced by many companies, allowing colleagues to talk freely and in private, within the open plan environment. While a lack of privacy has its downsides it can make workers stay focused by keeping private phone calls and texts to a minimum.
3.Open offices can cause anxiety and stress
Open-plan offices have few, if any physical barriers, so everyone sees everyone else - all the time. The intention of an open plan office was never to keep an eye on what everyone was doing or to create a workforce under surveillance but in some cases this is what is felt. When you take into account the lack of privacy and noise and the need for employees to be seen as busy - it’s a stressful environment where people could struggle to get anything done.
Pros of a Closed Office:
1. Closed offices can offer more quiet and private workspaces
Closed office layouts have the advantage of offering more quiet and are private spaces for employees to engage in focused work with fewer distractions. Having a closed private workspace allows workers to control volume in their workspace, which is not easy to do in an open office.
2. Fewer Distractions
People sometimes ask questions without attempting to find out the answer for themselves, although it’s beneficial to have a manager or supervisor, who can quickly help, it may be detrimental to their own work and progress if they feel bombarded. People will be less likely to interrupt someone if they have to navigate around walls and floor standing screens to solve their query. That’s why closed offices tend to lessen the number of distractions and interruptions workers encounter in a day.
3. A sense of organisation and hierarchy
A closed office environment can help reinforce an office hierarchy and incentivise workers. As members move up the ranks, they can be granted better workspaces - private offices or closer proximity to windows.
Making the right decision for your business
Like many aspects of office design, it’s not always a ‘one size fits all’ solution, because many businesses take a hybrid approach, mixing open plan workspaces with private spaces. This hybrid model works well, as research shows that people often want a variety of ways to work throughout their working day.
This concept is often referred to as ‘Agile Working’ meaning that people are not bound or fixed to one desk but have a number of places to work from around the office. Collaborative work tables and team pods all support ‘Agile Working’ methods.
Open Plan or Closed Office in a post pandemic world?
Whatever option you think is best for your business it is important to consider how your workforce operates. For businesses that require teamwork and collaboration - closed offices are not ideal but, if your business requires focused uninterrupted work then a closed office may be the better alternative.
We think that a hybrid of the two models works best, as each employee’s needs, and roles are often different and varied. We are also now looking at the prospect of offices being less populated than they were before the coronavirus pandemic, people may want to work from home some days and from the office on others. This prospect, in essence, may alleviate some of the problems we faced with noise and distractions from workers in an open plan environment. Whereby a closed office may now be seen as ‘overkill’ and alienating for each worker, if the office is running with lower occupancy levels.
We have now reached an exciting point in time where we can really think what we want our offices to be and mean. The debate of Open or Closed offices may finally be thrown into the wastepaper basket, when we realise that offices do not necessarily need to be a place where people just go to work, but a place where we can meet, work and socialise, making the office more of a destination.
If you are looking to plan your own office space, whether open or closed, we are well placed to design your space, using the latest in 3d visualization technology and work with you to incorporate any ideas that you may have of your own.
You can find out more about our space planning services here or give us a call on 01823 663880 to talk to a member of our team.