What is Better: Private Offices or Open Space in an Office?
When considering your future office design, it’s essential to take into account more than just the cost or your personal preference. Private office and open space in an office each have their pros and cons, which affect productivity, job satisfaction, even work-life balance.
Subject to your industry, employee preference, and job function, some workspace designs work better than others.
An office is often more than just the space in which people work. For many hardworking employees, it’s their home away from home.
Just like a great home, your workspace should be a comfortable place that people enjoy. It should encourage productivity, inspiration, and creativity. It should also be a reflection of your company’s culture.
Many business owners make the gaffe of assuming which office plan is best for their employees. Rather than choosing the most convenient option or what you think will be most popular, weigh the pros and cons, based on your employee’s needs.
The Open Office Plan
The open office plan, on the whole, lacks cubicles and private offices. Employees usually sit close to each other in single shared space. This open design gives office workers the opportunity to communicate spontaneously, which can often be both good and bad for your company.
Researchers have found that open office plans have been found to increase informal communication between employees, be considerably less expensive, and increase collaboration in certain types of teams, they come with some serious drawbacks for productivity.
- Opportunities for spontaneous innovation and collaboration
- Opportunities for healthy, casual communication
- Improved manager accessibility and greater transparency
- Enriched company culture
- More affordable (less square footage needed per employee)
- Room for new talent
- Distractions and noise, which hinders productivity and can disrupt a healthy work-life balance
- Lack of privacy (phone calls, one-on-one meetings, computer screens)
- Potential security issues from the lack of privacy
- Potentially discourages collaboration (everyone wearing headphones to block distractions)
- Higher chance of passing illness to coworkers
- Increased sick leave
Over three hundred papers spanning sixty-seven journals found that open office plans have a highly significant effect on occupant productivity. One of the significant findings was that strategies for handling sound and acoustics should be given a high priority in order to achieve high worker productivity. Another review of over one-hundred studies performed on open office plans discovered that they consistently led to lower focus and concentration.
This isn’t to say that open office plans should be off the table, but there certainly needs to be a balance. Cramming everyone together in a single room with meetings, phone calls, and conversations between coworkers, is a nightmare for productivity.
“While the open layout is feasible for some industries, workers need zones dedicated to minimizing distractions.” “Often, this style of office layout amplifies the negative effects of overcrowding, as finding a quiet moment to compose emails and reports or make phone calls can be a challenge.”
Bill Himmelstein, CEO of Tenant Advisory Group
Private offices or independent workspaces can give employees a better chance of focusing on their work without persistent distractions. Collaboration, however, becomes more limited, and company culture can suffer.
- Fewer distractions, which results in increased focus and efficiency
- “Prestige status” can become an incentive for seeking promotion
- Private space for professional and personal affairs
- Increased level of security
- Possible enhanced collaboration when a small team (2-3 workers) shares a private office
- Fewer opportunities for spontaneous collaboration and innovation
- Office morale may suffer
- Decreased level of engagement and team building
- Seeming lack of transparency
- Higher cost (more square footage needed per employee to accommodate office walls and cubicles)
- Potential for subcultures in the organization that do not align with the desired corporate culture
While some jobs certainly require more privacy than do others, a certain degree of privacy is essential in any business.
Many companies have quickly found that when privacy is absent from the workplace, so is productivity. With a lack of private space deal with personal issues, if someone is upset or stressed, it will inevitably distract the entire team. Furthermore, employees may be less willing to take risks when their peers are there to watch them fail.
Combining Both Office Layouts
Combining open and closed workspace plans is also a viable solution, and a highly attractive option to consider. Per the Gensler U.S. Workplace Survey for 2019, over 77% of employees desire work environments having key features from both open and private office plans.
For your employees to realize their best work, your workspace should include different rooms and spaces that will meet their diverse needs.
Try to focus on the nature of the daily tasks in your business. What environment will best suit the various types of workers which you employ and the jobs they complete?
Starts with understanding your office culture and how your employees work, and then plan the office space around that, including design and construction.
Speak with a designer about the most suitable layout for your team. Discuss the level of privacy your workers need and the type of environment you prefer. Does the nature of their work necessitate frequent phone calls with clients or tasks that require steady focus? Are your workers often engaged in group projects, requiring constant communication? Ask your employees what they have to say, letting them know they have a say in the matter, and that their individual situations and job functions will be considered in the decision.
Though open offices are popular today, many businesses are finding out the hard way that boundaries are needed. The best of both can be had by finding a balance. If you desire a more open floorplan, be sure to provide private booths for making phone calls and conference rooms for private meetings.
If you decide on a more private office space, be sure you’re still offering the opportunities for collaboration and maintaining a constructive company culture with team outings and check-ins.
Do It Your Way
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all approach to the perfect office design. Like most things in the business world, it’s necessary to do whatever works best for your team of highly talented workers. Open spaces may be cool to see in office tours and photos, but ultimately, results are what matter.