Ah, the open office. High ceilings and expansive shared work areas have become a hallmark of modern office design, especially in the tech industry. 


But is the open office right for your business? Will it spark collaboration or create distraction? Will it save money or hamper efficiency?


Before you ask your contractor to start knocking down walls, let’s take a tour of the open office. There are 7 crucial factors to consider when determining whether an open office layout is right for your team:

  1. Cost

  2. Health

  3. Communication

  4. Distraction

  5. Privacy

  6. Equitability

  7. Aesthetics


Here comes the tour.

7 Crucial Factors to Consider Before Choosing an Open Office

1. Open offices can be more cost-effective.

Money talks, especially when it comes to an open office. If your budget is tight, an open office layout can save you money in 2 significant ways: 

  1. Minimal internal infrastructure can reduce up-front construction costs by thousands.

  2. Shared office areas require less square footage than closed offices, enabling you to secure an overall smaller and, thus, less expensive space. This can save you tens of thousands over the life of your lease.


The flexibility of an open office is also a perk: You can easily reconfigure an open office to accommodate business growth so you can stay in your current space longer before needing to expand into a larger space or relocate. 

2. Germs spread more easily in open offices.

While workplaces have long been vehicles for widespread illness during cold and flu seasons, COVID-19 has magnified concerns about protecting employee health in the office. 


The bright, expansive feel of an open office can be energizing, especially during the dark, cold winter months. But this is misleading: Walls and partitions work wonders to prevent the spread of germs—so open offices become hotbeds of illness within hours of viruses or bacteria being introduced, especially for airborne illnesses like COVID-19


Consider the following note about germ spread from an article: “An uncovered cough or sneeze creates a spray of up to 4,00 disease-ridden droplets that travel at up to 200 mph to a distance of up to 26 feet and stay suspended in the air for 10 minutes.” (Ewww.)


So what you save on office construction and square footage may be spent in lost productivity, more sick days, and higher healthcare costs.

3. Communication patterns may change in open offices.

Open office enthusiasts are quick to cite increased collaboration as the biggest perk of an open office. Fewer walls mean more opportunities to chat, brainstorm, share ideas, and engage with coworkers we otherwise may not encounter.


But the jury’s still out on whether employees pursue these additional opportunities for collaboration, at least when it comes to face-to-face communication. A study of 2 Fortune 500 companies published in Harvard Business Review found that “face-to-face interactions dropped by roughly 70% after the firms transitioned to open offices, while electronic interactions increased to compensate.” 


Other studies have found similar results, and many point out that employees simply aren’t as comfortable communicating while several colleagues are within earshot. 


Ask your employees about their workplace preferences and encourage them to share any concerns they may have about working in an open office. Then you can ensure the open office layout you choose helps your team feel comfortable, supported, and motivated. 


4. You need to be mindful of noise in open offices.

Noise and visual distractions can be more pronounced in open offices since there are fewer walls and partitions to act as buffers. This can lessen productivity and efficiency—and increase frustration—for employees whose focus is interrupted. 


Luckily, thoughtful office design can help. Include decor that reduces sound travel, like plants, rugs, tapestries, acoustic panels, and small dividers or decorative screens. Glass walls are another smart choice: They visually extend a space while cutting down on noise and providing some privacy. 


Reduce disruptive cross-talk by grouping a few couches or chairs with a whiteboard and activity table to create communal areas. Invite teammates to collaborate in these spaces rather than in hallways or at individual workstations, which may be more distracting to employees who are working autonomously.

5. Some teams may need more privacy than an open office provides.

Tech and creative workers who work on cross-departmental projects or do lots of collaborating often favor open offices—but the highly transparent nature of an open office may not be suitable for work that requires more privacy.


Employees who work in human resources, for example, will be working with confidential documents and often need to have confidential conversations with employees. The same goes for team members handling sensitive financial, legal, or medical information. If the nature of your business requires more buttoned-up security, an open office may pose additional challenges for you.


And remember that protecting privacy isn’t just about preventing sound from carrying. Computer monitors or documents laid out on desks are much more visible in open offices, making it easy for employees to even inadvertently become privy to information that was meant to be confidential. 

6. Open offices can feel more equitable.

An upside of the open office is its more egalitarian feel—eliminating physical barriers gives new meaning to the open-door policy. 


Supervisors work alongside their teams all day, reinforcing the idea that they’re available to guide and support their teams in a more hands-on way rather than simply manage from afar. Newer or junior employees feel more comfortable approaching teammates or leaders to share ideas or make suggestions. 


And working side-by-side all day bolsters a sense of unity and partnership. Teammates are, quite literally, in it together.

7. Open office aesthetics are hard to beat.

If you ever spent a few years or your early career crammed inside a dark cubicle, you know open office aesthetics are hard to beat. 


The combination of high ceilings, clean lines, and elongated spaces make an open office feel large and airy. Since there are fewer walls, natural light often extends throughout an open office, reducing the need for the harsh fluorescent lighting found in so many traditional office spaces. 


An open office can also offer a wow factor: A few well-placed sofas and glass walls can highlight the large scale of the space and impress your visitors. 


But beware of clutter and messes, which are often harder to hide in an open office environment. If you want to protect the sleek aesthetic, you’ll want to ensure your employees have plenty of storage to stow belongings and supplies

Is the Open Office Right for Your Business?

Thoughtful office design transcends decor and considers how the space will impact comfort, motivation, and performance. Ultimately, the office layout you choose should support the needs of your business and employees. 


If the open office feels like the right fit, our team can help you get started with your design and decor plans. We offer complimentary design services to help you with everything from seating arrangements to furniture selection. Talk with our team today to get started.



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