Businesses large and small have to find the most efficient work setting for their employees. In recent years, the “open office” concept has taken hold among various organizations seeking an alternative to the cubicle configuration so common in the workplace. There are compelling arguments to be made for and against the open office approach.
If you’re considering a wholesale redesign of your work-space, think about these open office pros and cons before making your decision:
Increased collaboration and communications. It’s commonly understood that office workers sequestered in row upon row of cubicles are inherently less successful at collaborating on a project or effectively communicating a wide range of ideas. In an open space, there’s much more inclination to throw out ideas and cohere in formalized or ad hoc teams to get things done. Open office advocates also contend that people are simply more creative in this environment. When things are humming, morale and productivity are high – a boon to businesses of any size.
Additionally, in an open office, there’s less sense of “departments” as separate entities. Critics of the ever-present “silo effect” point to this breakdown as a key element of enhanced team spirit.
Enhanced cost savings. How much money could your business save by cutting back on office or cubicle furnishings? More employees can fit in an open office, thus reducing the amount of dead space found in typical work environments. There’s potential cost savings in utilities as well, with less need for air-conditioning and electricity (especially if the newly configured work-space has lots of natural light).
Noise and distractions. The free exchange of ideas can be a double-edged sword in an open office setting. Employees (like everyone else) are social animals and, given the chance, may consider open space a great opportunity to socialize about non-work-related matters. That makes it tough on co-workers who are up against deadlines or simply prefer not to just hang out at the office.
Also, in the open office, there’s a lot more noise – from ringing phones and impromptu team sessions to client meetings and all the general background noise that accompanies any group of people. Employees who grapple with shortened attention spans or who just need to buckle down and focus can be easily distracted (and become non-productive) in such an environment.
Lack of privacy. The days of an employee’s private phone conversation with a spouse, family member or physician are gone in an open office setting. Some business owners will likely put this in the “benefits” column, but chances are employees won’t – and hold it against their employer.
More importantly, if and when the time comes for an in-house meeting with clients, how well will this fare in an open office setting? Not every client will be comfortable discussing his or her business matters within ear-shot of total strangers. Anything that threatens client confidentiality and trust is a red flag most businesses can’t afford to ignore.
Risk to employees’ health. Even the cursory separation of a cubicle wall can insulate some employees from others who come to work with a cold or flu symptoms. Think about how easily people in an open office will share germ-ridden pens, folders, computers and other office equipment. Contagious illnesses will have free rein – resulting in unacceptable levels of employee absenteeism.
In the end, every small business owner has to determine which option best serves his or her employees and the organization at large. Some businesses have opted for a compromise solution – keeping part of the work-place open while retaining offices and/or cubicles for executives or special situations where privacy and a lack of distraction are absolutely essential. Take a fresh look at your work environment and see what works for you.
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