Though people still talk about the corner office as a benchmark of success in the workplace, more and more companies are tearing out cubicles and private offices in favor of open floor plans with flexible furniture. The potential benefits of open offices—flexibility, opportunities for collaboration, and reduction of hierarchies—are appealing to companies that want to encourage innovation, but some projects require a level of focus best obtained in an enclosed, private space. Consulting with an architect can help you determine what mix of open and closed spaces will work best for your company.
Tech companies have long touted the benefits of open offices in terms of their ability to foster collaboration. By giving each employee a similar workstation within an open plan, there’s a removal of hierarchy that empowers every worker to generate the next big idea. Casual desk-side meetings and interdepartmental cross-pollination happen more readily in these environments. And there’s an overhead cost savings, with each employee getting roughly 40 to 50 usable square feet (as opposed to 125 to 250 usable square feet per person in private offices), meaning more people can fit in less space.
But for all of the potential benefits of open offices, there are an equal number of complaints about noise, health, and comfort. One of the drawbacks to removing walls in the workplace is that overall noise levels tend to increase. For all of the productivity boosted by having high-energy people working in close proximity, there might be an equal reduction in employees who are unable to concentrate above the general din. Sound carries in an open office, meaning that a coworker’s cold or phone call might inhibit the productivity of everyone within earshot. And that one sick coworker stands a larger chance of spreading germs when there are no partitions to block a sneeze.