Hypothetically, an open office space is supposed to provide a series of benefits to the workers within it, and, by extension, add significant revenue to the worker's company. 

To be clear, an open office is an office layout in which there aren't any significant physical barriers between one employee's work area and another's, be that a cubicle or some other form of partition.

Further, the concept is intended to prevent any separation between office workers in a professional environment, in order to promote the exchange of information.

This means that any particular desk setup is intended to be modular so that employees can be shuffled from desk cluster to cluster as the number of workers expand or contract.

Why Organizations Implement Open Office Floor Plans 

Keep in mind that at present, roughly 80 percent of all office environments employ an open office floor plan of some kind. This strategy, as we will explore, comes to the detriment of their employees.

According to the model, open offices are designed primarily to achieve four objectives:

  • They should naturally lead to “crumple zones” – deploy a layout which would be easier for expansion in a given office space as well as facilitate worker movement.

  • Employment of uniform lighting and heating – an open office design would maximize lighting in a given space, thus reducing utility costs while optimizing productivity.

  • Improved cost-effectiveness – without additional walls, open offices are intended to save any particular firm money on what is perceived to be unneeded partition equipment and construction.

  • Promote culture collision – in what is supposed to be an open setting, it is thought that otherwise unlikely encounters between co-workers will occur, which would lead to the development of new ideas which would help the firm.

Of course, any given model seems intuitive initially – but, after over half a century of usage, to what degree has the open office plan worked?

The Consequences of Open Office Floor Plans

First, an open office plan does clearly allow for changes in desk deployment, which would seem to be a boon to office productivity. After all, would it not seem axiomatic that a light shift in desk placement not at all be an issue with workers, and, in fact, a means to reshuffle a larger group of employees?

However, such a conclusion is not supported by the research of experts. For example, a study in 1997 of a petroleum company found the following:

The psychologists assessed the employees’ satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell.

As a final note on that point, only a mere one in ten employees report that “ease of interaction” with other co-workers is a problem in an office setting.

Issues with Lighting and Heating 

The lighting scheme in an open office floor plan is financially sound, but that does not mean that it works. Different employees have different desires as it pertains to the level of lighting as well as the ambient temperature of the room. This is particularity relevant when one considers the size of an office space and the diverse backgrounds workers may have come from.

open office floor plan

In an average sample, exactly half of employees are unhappy with the room temperature in their own work environment. 

Such peculiarities with respect to temperature specifications can often lead to what is known as “thermostat wars” around the office, which not only raises the electrical and heating bills but also lowers productivity. In addition to all of that, such an office conflict can even lead to ongoing feuds​ which may result in drastically reduced worker esprit de corps.

Similarly, research demonstrates that lighting does significantly affect worker productivity​, and lighting preferences do vary between specific individuals. Clearly, a one size temperature and lighting approach to worker space does not fit all.

Open Office Floor Plans Have Major Problems Associated with Noise  & Illness 

An unseen problem with open offices are the distractions employees have to endure. In an open office, noise often can be the single most substantial source of distraction for workers.

What's worse, office noise can induce fatigue and even lead to the development of illnesses​ such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and tinnitus (a constant ringing in one's ear).

Furthermore, rather than save money, open office plans actually cost more​ than some forms of private office settings. Consequently, a lack of office equipment is clearly a detriment to office performance.

There is no strong evidence that open office promotes the synthesis of new ideas which boost a company's bottom line. On the contrary, it is possible that separation, if not complete isolation in the form of remote work is strongly desired by workers​, particularly younger ones.

Instances of chatting by the water cooler (apparently) about office-related milieu which will soon climb their way through the corporate chain and lead to a phenomenal breakthrough appear to be nothing more than a myth.

Evidently, viewing ongoing office chatter as a positive seems to be an example wherein one should not confuse activity with progress. Along with that, managers often run the risk of too often checking in on their employees, and making them feel crowded by constantly peering over their shoulder.

Do Open Office Floor Plans Work? No

To sum everything up, open office plans simply do not work. The entire design concept is the ergonomic version of the Briggs-Meyers Personality Type Indicator assessment – a concept which seems sensible on its face, but an inefficient means of boosting worker productivity.

  • They fail to promote productive worker interaction.
  • They fail to encourage proper oversight on the part of management.
  • They fail to boost or even maintain optimal levels of worker productivity.
  • They aren't at all cost-effective.

Only one conclusion is obvious; the old open office system needs to be abandoned, to make room for something radically new. That new system is the office pod.

An Innovative Solution from Zenbooth

Zenbooths are self-contained units which possess all of the vital equipment (i.e. outlets, a desk section, anti-fatigue floor mat) a typical office setup would have, while alleviating all of the enormous flaws of an open office layout.

Zenbooth office pods are designed to dampen sound (40 decibels) and thus keep employees from being distracted by persistent background noise. In addition to protecting an employee from the shockingly detrimental health effects of office noise, this design concept allows the employee to adjust the lighting conditions, temperature, and airflow however they wish. This means that they can then engage their mind to achieve maximum free-flow focus without being constantly supervised by a middle management official.

The separation of work areas not only means a reduction in time employees spend being non-productive, but fewer sickness-causing pathogens being passed around the office.

Lastly, rather than cost an exorbitant amount of money like constructing additional office space, Zenbooth office booths are quite reasonably priced.​ With an ongoing discount price in effect, you can purchase your own office pods and upgrade your business while seeing massive gains in productivity right now. To get in touch with us, simply fill out the form on this contact page.

February 06, 2018 by Cort Tafoya
Tags: open office

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