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How to Decide if an Open Office Plan is Right for You

How do you decide if the open office environment is right for your company? Companies like LogMeIn, Google and Yahoo seem to create exciting places to work – open work tables, no panels or hard walled offices, lots of places to have fun and collaborate with co-workers. Reducing the amount of private offices can save you money on construction and real estate costs, but what are the real benefits of an open plan and how do you decide if it’s really right for you?

Before you make a decision, ask yourself this: what are the business goals you are trying to achieve with your space? Think about how employees will spend their time throughout the workday. What activities happen that require interaction and when will employees need private space? Where will they go to meet, and where do they go to work? The space you create should support the type of business and culture you want to develop.

The Benefits
It’s no secret that an open office plan offers a greater sense of community. An article in the Harvard Business Review states, “It can foster collaboration, promote learning, and nurture a strong culture.” If employees are tucked away in their own office or cubicle, they’re less likely to engage and interact with their neighbor. An open plan boosts morale and gives employees an incentive to do well and keep a positive attitude.

The Risks
While open offices are great for communication and collaboration, there are also a number of risks. Depending on the layout, open floor plans may not offer as much privacy. This may cause unwanted frustrations if an employee wants to have a private conversation or needs to do concentrated work. Conversations and distractions may take people’s attention away from the work they need to do, however some open plan offices can actually be quieter than other offices – developing a culture of respect and consideration can turn a risk into a benefit, under the right circumstances.

Redefining Privacy 
Given the risks of an open office space, it’s important to remember that privacy means different things to different people. Whether it is more about sounds, distractions or closed doors, determine with your employees what they will need to be able to do their job. Ensure enough private spaces are available for confidential calls and meetings and develop a reservation system for these spaces if ownership is a question.  

Strategic Space Planning
The Harvard Business Review describes two approaches for accommodating privacy needs in the workspace. The “distributed model” is when spaces that support stimulation control are mixed into areas for both individual and group work. For example, an employee may need to focus while preparing for a meeting, move to another room to collaborate, and then break away to concentrate on a task. The zone model is when businesses may assign an area or even an entire floor as a quiet hub. In this approach, the private zones are separate from open areas. This can be valuable in handling noise disruptions.

The Importance of Programming
Proper programming is a key service that often gets missed, or isn’t done enough. Beyond determining the square footage requirements, it’s key to understand exactly how people work, what they need to effectively and efficiently perform their tasks, and complete knowledge of what kind of space will work for them.  Many times high level programming happens during the site selection process, but never really gets drilled down. If Hereva is brought in early in the process, this pitfall (myth of the open office) can be avoided. The open office is “trendy” and works great for some companies, but isn’t always the right solution to fit the corporate culture.

The Thing to Remember
Design should always follow function, meaning that businesses need to understand the way their employees work and design with culture in mind. If people need a private space to do their work, businesses should provide one – but it doesn’t have to be a closed office. There are other ways to create private spaces. Until you do your project programming and determine your needs, you can’t make a decision on whether an open or closed space is best for your business. A space that offers choice and an environment that fosters the freedom to choose can be of great value to organizations with dynamic teams.


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