Much has been discussed about open-plan offices, how they are awfully noisy or depressingly silent, how they lead to better collaboration or lower workers’ productivity and satisfaction levels, contributing to mental workload and higher stress. Whether the open layout offers a better way of working or not, the fact remains that currently, 70 percent of American employees work in open plan offices (and this number is mirrored in many developed countries across the world).
And while it cannot be denied that a shared space without any barriers can lead to noise, interruption, and loss of privacy, it also solves some of the most important challenges of the modern work environment. Here’s how:
You’ve probably already heard that we are in the midst of a workplace revolution, brought about primarily by the changing workforce. People today are living and working longer, leading to a mixed, multi-generational environment with different sets of behaviors and motivations. And while generation gaps in the workplace are as old as history, never before have there been differences so vast in work style and behavior between co-workers.
A survey from Ernst & Young gathered insights from more than 1,200 professionals across several industries about the strengths and weaknesses of the different generations currently working together. For starters, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who make up 9 percent of the entire work population, were characterized as work-centric, self-reliant, achievement-oriented, and career-focused. On the other hand, they ranked the lowest when it came to being collaborative and adaptable. Gen Xers (born in mid 1960s to early 1980s) were believed to be the best revenue generators, very adaptable, and focused on problem-solving; they were not, however, found to be cost-effective or have executive presence. Lastly, Millennials (born in early 1980s to mid-1990s) were considered the most tech-savvy and enthusiastic about their jobs. They scored lower, however, on being team players and hardworking.
What the open office does is strike a good balance between the different needs of multiple generations. A single, wall-less room fits thousands of people of different ages and tenures, bringing them together when they need to collaborate or distancing them when they express the need for privacy. Everyone is given the liberty to choose how and whom they work with: boomers are free to remain pinned to their desks all day long, use phones to communicate, and participate in conference meetings, while Gen Xers and Millennials are allowed to wander around with their laptops, using interactive, technology-based forms of communication, and exchange ideas in less formal settings.
This one is pretty obvious: a wall-less space facilitates interaction between workers and improves communication and team cohesion, encouraging employees to feel part of an innovative organization by making everyone accessible. Studies reveal that most workers dislike locking themselves away in separate offices or spending long periods alone working. Walking around the office, sitting down with colleagues, exchanging ideas while waiting for the coffee, all these serendipitous, or even planned – encounters bring people together and create a sense of camaraderie in the long run.
In a more free-flowing work environment unencumbered by walls and formality, workers from different departments can learn from each other, share knowledge and methods, and bounce ideas off one another. Junior employees are able to approach senior members at ease and pick their brains about a certain project. Benching systems, unassigned seating, co-working spaces, and lots of common areas where workers can play, relax, or clear their minds promote cooperation and innovation, translated in considerable profits for companies.
Particularly in the case of smaller companies with tighter budgets, private offices can be really expensive. Implementing an open, collaborative space with fewer partitioned work spaces and enclosed offices allows office managers to save money by reducing the square footage required per employee and decrease real estate footprint.
This is even further achieved as more companies embrace remote work. According to recent data, between 2005 and 2012, the U.S. workforce grew 3 percent, while the number of regular telecommuters rose to 66 percent; by 2020, a third of the world’s population is expected to work from home. Along with the diminished need for dedicated office space, working from home will also reduce the environmental footprint (by saving oil and reducing greenhouse emissions), save time and money, and increase workers’ productivity by allowing them to maintain a satisfactory work-life balance.
If these are the challenges your company is faced with, as well, contact your local office space planner to discuss how you can motivate and engage your employees by tapping into the potential of open office floor plans.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.