What are the advantages and disadvantages of an open-space office model versus private office spaces?
Originated in Germany, the idea of open space office was designed back in 1950 by a team of engineers in Hamburg, who thought that this type of set up would ease communication between employees.
The open-office model has been since one of the most preferred office models worldwide; and not just among startups. About 70 percent of U.S. offices have now no or low partitions, cites the International Facility Management Association.
Not surprising that Silicon Valley, as in so many cases, is once again the leader in creating trends: Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Co are all using the open office models to some extent. Mark Zuckerberg went so far as to hire the architect Frank Gehry, a Pritzer Prize-winning architect, to design the largest open office space in the world, the Facebook Headquarters, boosting more than 2,500 engineers.
Michael Bloomberg, a famous businessman and an early adopter of the open-space trend believes that open-space offices offer transparency and fairness. It is no secret that most CEOs and executive managers appreciate the open floor office layout and the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees. Companies can also save a buck or two, considering that they are maximizing full use of the space while minimizing costs. Open office models are certainly cheaper to maintain, plus it is possible to cramp more people into one open space than in an small enclosed room.
Open-space offices are indeed, in their best case scenario, a dynamic work arena, which allows employees to create better relationships and work more efficiently in a team. Open-space offices should also improve workflow, communication, and foster more collaboration.
All the arguments presented are relatively for the CEOs, but what about for the employee? Hence the question arises:
Does productivity really increase? Does the open office model work for all types of businesses, particularly for small and medium size companies?
A 2013 study found that many workers in open-space offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in such open-space offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them, and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Lindsey Kaufman, a senior writer at the Washington Post, explains why the open office model doesn't work for her. “Our new, modern office was beautifully airy, it was remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing.“
However, she is not the only one who has commented feeling this way. Many creative employees have complained that they feel too exposed, combined with the fact that they have to listen to too much noise, which does not exactly contribute to more concentration.
To a certain extent, their point of views seems logical. Isn't it true that everyone has their own rhythm, that people do come to work at different times, take a break differently, and may prefer to socialize or not to? This raises the question of what would be ideal office space.
If you want your employee to perform creative or intellectually intense work, you have to give that person privacy. While in some cases, depending on the business model, an open office may indeed foster creativity and collaboration. Perhaps a combination of the traditional office layout and the open-space concept might work.
A great example of this would be Microsoft. Their team decided to have both open, and closed, private spaces, so that when employees needs to cooperate, they meet in the hallway where they have conversations. After which, everybody returns back to their privacy. This mix of a potpourri of office models, like so many things in life, may be the ideal solution out of all.
- Björn Robert Raschovsky -