The Pros and Cons of Open Workspace Design

November 20, 2017

Collaboration versus distraction

When it comes to open workspace design, there are two schools of thought. Most believe that the benefits of better space utilization and greater collaboration amongst employees far outweigh any perceived negatives. On the other hand, some believe the price of noise and distraction on productivity is too high. Let’s examine the pros and cons, and then consider how to capture all of the upsides of open design while minimizing the drawbacks.

Benefits of open design

Open workspace design helps teams operate more effectively, and it also makes the best, most efficient use of space. These benefits are generally noted as some of the top features of open workplaces:

  1. Open workspaces reduce employer overhead. Simply put, walls cost money. Compared to traditional design, an open floorplan makes more efficient use of lighting, energy, and heat and air conditioning. It also enables employers to shrink the square footage assigned to each employee.
  2. Millennials want open, casual workspaces. Millennials favor casual office environments, and an open design can help your organization make a good impression on young job candidates.
  3. Openness fosters collaboration. When teams work together and can see one another, it’s easy to ask an impromptu question or have a quick brainstorming session. An open design lends itself naturally to better and more frequent collaboration.
  4. More employees benefit from natural light. Natural light is healthier for workers. Studies show that workers with views of nature and natural light are less sleepy, more productive, less frustrated and physically healthier.
  5. Openness reflects corporate values. An open design connotes a sense of shared responsibility and lacks any sense of territory. Openness demonstrates that the organization values teamwork and collaboration over individualism.
  6. Open design lacks visual hierarchy. In an open office, managers, and even executives, work side-by-side with employees on a visually level playing field. There is no fancy corner office to denote status or separate teams.
  7. An open floor plan accommodates growth more easily. In an open design, desks can easily be reconfigured to fit more employees into the same space. This helps organizations accommodate periods of rapid workforce growth without having to acquire additional real estate.

Drawbacks of open design

As you can see, there are many benefits of open workplace design for both employees and employers. However, there are some circumstances in which open design can have drawbacks, and those drawbacks tend to impact some types of employees more than others.

  1. Open spaces can be noisy. Dozens or hundreds of employees typing and having quiet conversations can add up to a lot of noise. Noise distractions reduce employee productivity by as much as 86 minutes each day, according to a 2014 study by Steelcase and Ipsos. As you plan your design, incorporate as much sound absorbing material as possible into your furnishings and finishes.
  2. Noise aggravates specific disabilities. For some employees with concentration disabilities, noise is extra challenging. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) can make it nearly impossible to perform in an environment of distraction. Others may have significant noise sensitivities, as in the cases of autism, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorders. Noise cancelling headphones may offer accommodation.
  3. Some employees need to concentrate more. Some employees just need more quiet time—engineers, software coders, surgeons, accountants, and scientists, for example. Forcing them into an open office may be counterproductive.
  4. Lack of privacy can affect morale. Research from the University of Sydney demonstrated that a lack of sound privacy was the biggest drain on employee morale of any feature in the open work environment. A survey by Harvard Business Review found 50% of employees are sometimes frustrated by a lack of sound privacy.
  5. Some jobs/projects/contracts require secrecy. Some employees are working on proprietary projects or sensitive contracts and really should not be overheard. One example is government contracts that require security clearance; another is employees who discuss personal health information.
  6. Introverts may be uncomfortable. Not everyone gets energized by being social. While extroverts thrive in open offices, introverts are often painfully trying to avoid too much interpersonal interaction.

Match design to utilization to get the right mix for your workers

The good news about open design is that you can have all of the benefits without the drawbacks, if you include the right amount of private workspaces in your plan. Asure Software’s Workplace Utilization solutions can help you gain a full understanding of how your space is currently utilized, so you can develop an open floor plan that includes private enclaves and meeting rooms.