by Shari Parsons Miller
An open-plan office space layout has pros and cons both for a firm’s personnel and its bottom line. In an open-plan work environment, there are no distinct rooms or fully enclosed spaces. Instead, workstations are positioned together -- sometimes separated by short screens or panels -- within one exposed floor plan. The openness may improve communication and collaboration among your workers, but it also may reduce concentration and productivity.
A lack of walls or other physical barriers in open-plan office spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis. The constant intermingling not only generates a sense of camaraderie among personnel, it also enhances the flow of information and teamwork. Colleagues can turn to each other for advice or assistance without having to knock on doors or schedule a formal meeting. Interactions in an open-plan office space generally are more frequent and informal than in closed environments where everyone has a separate office space.
The increased collaboration resulting from an open-plan work space can lead to business innovation and advancement. At the same time, an open-plan layout can benefit the business economically by reducing costs tied to construction, utilities and office equipment. For example, fewer walls mean less time and materials required to create the office space. Having a single work space also may reduce heating/cooling and electricity expenses thanks to improved flow of air and light. Businesses can save on equipment investment as well, since communal spaces promote shared use of resources, such as printers, copiers and staplers. An open-plan space also provides greater flexibility to accommodate evolving personnel needs.
On the downside, the high level of everyday interaction that takes place in an undivided work space may lead to noise and distractions that make it difficult for employees to focus on their work and conduct business. Lack of privacy is another potential problem with open-plan office spaces, where computer screens are easily visible by those walking by and telephone conversations are likely to be overheard. Open-plan layouts also facilitate the spread of disease, so if a colleague comes to work with a cold, it can affect the health of the entire staff.