When trying to conjure up a workspace that will suit each individual and foster creativity, two different scenarios are often considered: should you provide a solitary environment with private offices, or a collaborative environment with an open workspace? Let’s take a look at why each one has its own benefits and downsides.
Because private offices aren’t cost effective to build, many offices are opting for an open work environment. In fact, one of the most important benefits of an open workspace is that it’s cheaper to implement. A long flat desk with a common cable trough, called a benching system, is much cheaper than producing all of the necessary items required for a private offices. However, the end result can be a loss of privacy and productivity for some employees.
A 2013 study found that many employees in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to a decline in work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the increase in noise was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. This may be ideal for employers as they can better monitor what their employees are doing and maintain a fair environment. However, keep in mind that a sense of privacy can help to boost job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness. In addition to the distractions, an increase in illness is possible amongst employees who work closely together.
More workers, less space and cost savings don’t lead to added productivity. A recent survey by Oxford Economics shows how open office plans can actually impede productivity. 53% of the 1,200 people surveyed said they were less productive and satisfied when they could hear ambient noise around them. To be more productive, we may need to think “inside the box” and revisit the private office as the preferred format for workspaces.
On the other hand, companies could simply join the newest trend which is allowing employees to work from home. That model has proven to boost productivity, with employees working more hours and taking fewer breaks. On top of that, there are fewer interruptions at home.
A benefit of having an open workspace is that they can handle rapid changes in personnel number. Traditional office layouts, where you’re limited by the number of individual offices in the space, don’t offer the same benefit. At some point, you have to choose between expanding to other floors, adding buildings or simply just switching to an open-plan workspace.
While the recent trend toward open offices is often explained as necessary to inspire collaboration, research is showing that the benefits of open office design for collaboration are typically offset by distractions. The potential key to keeping employees happy and productive is having a mix of spaces for different activities such as collaboration, learning, socializing and deep focusing.
Of course, people who work in an office still spend most of the day at their desks, but when it’s time to collaborate, moving to an environment solely made for this is ideal. Delegate a large community table or couch where conversation and ideas can flow freely. Consider putting a whiteboard on the inside of the room that can be viewed later by those who missed out on collaboration time. This way the whole team will feel included.
While an open office may not work for every company, they can have great impact on culture, innovation and collaboration. But just like all good things, balance is important. Consider getting feedback from your team on their preference between a private workspace or a collaborative one.