When one size does not fit all: Rethinking the open office

February 13, 2015 Laura McDaniel

A company that thrives on collaboration and creativity would logically have a very different work environment than a more traditional business practice in which work can be completed independently - so why is everyone jumping on the open office bandwagon? This article that appeared on Architecture News explores how both options are great when used in the appropriate environment.

Workplace design has undergone a radical transformation in the last several decades, with approximately seventy percent of today’s modern  now converted to open plans. However, despite growing concerns over decreases in worker productivity and employee satisfaction, the open office revolution shows no sign of slowing down. The open office model has proliferated without regard for natural differences in workplace culture, leading to disastrous results when employees are forced into an office that works against their own interests. If we are to make  more effective, we must acknowledge that ultimately, design comes out of adapting individual needs for a specific purpose and at best, can create inviting spaces that reflect a company’s own ethos.

1305 Studio Office. Image © Shen Photography




The concept of the  had noble beginnings in architecture and promised natural light, flexible space, and freedom from oppressive walls and rooms. Many companies have adopted open office plans in order to promote the values this layout supposedly represents such as transparency, collaboration, innovation, and even egalitarian visions where the CEO shares a desk alongside his employees. But despite all of their supposed benefits, a number of studies have revealed the downsides to  offices. In one such study, organizational psychologist Matthew Davis found that “though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.” Another study found even more extreme repercussions of the typology, revealing that as the number of employees working in a single room increased, employee attendance correspondingly decreased with those working in fully open offices out sixty-two percent more than those in single offices. [1]

So why do open plan offices perpetuate in the wake of so much criticism and research-backed evidence against them? The answer first and foremost lies in their economic advantages. The purported benefits of the open plan office often mask their underlying function – to cut down on real estate costs by cramming the maximum number of employees into the minimum amount of space. As workers spend less and less time in the office due to the proliferation of mobile devices and the ability to work remotely, corporations are less willing to spend money on partially filled offices. Therefore, the shift to open plan offices could be a very smart decision on the part of employers in terms of saving on operating costs, but it raises questions about how work actually gets done in the office environment.

Read the full article here.

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