Are open-plan offices good for business?

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Employees sitting at desks in open-plan offices

Some leaders believe open-plan offices encourage healthy collaboration, others say that they provide unwelcome distractions and hamper productivity. So are open-plan workspaces really a boon to businesses?

Yes, says John Jennings, associate director at Chris Cooper Business Elevation and a member of IoD East Midlands

John Jennings who argues for open-plan officesIn our rapidly moving digital economy, organisations need improved levels of engagement more than ever. Open plan facilitates improved communication at all levels and across teams.

Office ‘banter’ is the social glue that helps to bind teams together, particularly for Generation Y and millennials. Concerns about employees being dissatisfied with their environments can be allayed by involving people in redesign through consultation. Scary statistics about poorly workers spreading germs can be countered with simple hygiene and health and safety policies.

Management should encourage appropriate times and situations for social chat and get involved with their people. Leaders can also work on developing their emotional intelligence by practising empathy and good listening skills. Where open-plan works best is where a well-designed environment includes provision for interruption-free working.

An open-plan working environment encourages interaction, open communication, collaboration and information exchange, without formality. A bonus of a no-barriers environment is that many meetings can be avoided by encouraging people into huddles to exchange views and information. Walls act as barriers to all of this and can create artificial fiefdoms, which benefit big egos, but little else.

No, says Caroline Arnold, executive coach at Caroline Arnold Coaching and a member of IoD South West

Caroline Arnold who argues against open-plan officesOpen-plan offices are thought to be great for collaboration but the truth is that employees wanting to ask a ‘quick question’ may interrupt you constantly, or include you in a conversation that you don’t need to be part of.

Employees usually crave some time on their own to think, work privately and finish tasks without the constant interruptions and don’t feel they can say anything for fear of not being seen as a team player. I believe this is one reason why more employees are requesting the flexibility to work from home – purely to have some space to think, focus on complex tasks and not feel so stressed out by not completing anything during the day in the office.

Companies can introduce the open-plan culture believing that they will benefit from lower rent costs and higher sales from increased productivity but the opposite is likely to be true as employees are burnt out from this environment, so are less productive, take more sick days and may look for jobs elsewhere, which can lead to higher recruitment costs.

According to Canada Life Group Insurance research in 2014, employees working in an open-plan office are more likely to experience higher levels of stress, which may lead to them taking more sick days. The distractions, higher stress and increased sickness absence ultimately lead to a drop in productivity. @Carnoldcoaching

Do open-plan offices benefit business? 

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About author

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett

Richard Dunnett is an associate editor who writes about entrepreneurs, SMEs, FTSE 100 corporations, technology, manufacturing, media and sustainability.

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