Are Open-Plan Offices Really The Way Forward?

worker distracted in an open-plan office


Open-plan offices have existed for decades and many corporations, such as Facebook, have regarded them as an essential part of the Future of Work. Open offices are large spaces with no dividing walls, an abundance of desks, and many employees sharing the space together. They can be helpful to companies looking to expand in large numbers at a low cost, as it is much cheaper to construct an open-plan office than a traditional one. These models are usually marketed as collaborative spaces in which productivity thrives and a sense of community is created among employees.

However, studies show that this is rarely the case, as shared office spaces have actually shown lower rates for productivity. The main effects are that employees’ attention spans suffer, their concentration plummets, and their stress levels rise. The cause? Their office neighbours with different work styles, schedules, and perceptions of acceptable noise levels. Employees find it harder to ward off distractions and unwanted exchanges in order to keep a steady flow of work. Privacy also goes out the door when everyone is sharing one space together. Listening to an unwanted half of someone’s phone call has become such a common experience in shared offices, that some have even dubbed it “The Halfalog”. There even exists the rare but comical story of an employee having to take a phone call under their desk just to avoid the noise. People often opt to work from home because they find they have the freedom to carry out work effectively and without the fear of being disrupted.

In order to combat this lack of privacy, employees have found that applications like Slack and Gchat are beneficial to ensure confidential communication with their colleagues. Other programs like Zoom and GoToMeeting offer the opportunity to hold virtual meetings when there is no closed space to use. Though booking a conference room can act as a good solution to needing a closed space, it becomes a little bit excessive when employees are doing this every time they need to work on on-going collaborative projects, take a long phone call, or partake in a virtual meeting. Ironically, studies have also shown that contrary to the increased sense of community that open-plan offices promise, employees’ face-to-face time actually decreases, as they feel the need to stay within their teams and find it difficult to leave their desks without losing focus.

These problems show that the Future of Work is not synonymous with open-plan offices. When looking to expand, businesses need an economic solution that helps uphold productivity. Flexible workspaces can accommodate these needs. Flexible workspaces offer a variety of offices and amenities to choose from, all while still taking care of administration and providing on-site support staff. They come with lease flexibility, office resources, and most importantly, they are a closed and private space. Flexible offices are usually supplied by a firm (like The Professional Centre) that leases to multiple companies. This allows for short or long-term rentals (based on a business’ needs) and gives way to opportunities to connect with other companies without infringing on worker’s privacy. These hybrid models allow for better productivity than the open-plan offices that corporations are currently using, while still providing all the benefits.

Office Spaces and COVID-19

In light of COVID-19 and the state of emergency that everyone is facing, shared office spaces are proving to be high-risk areas. Working from home has no longer become a choice, but a government-mandated necessity, and the technology once used to communicate privately in shared spaces have now become an essential part of everyone’s quarantine work-life. Studies have even shown that working from home has higher rates for productivity than in-office work, which suggests that many companies will be looking for ways to emulate this, once offices are allowed to re-open. With COVID-19 changing the way the professional world exists, businesses are looking for ways to survive beyond the virus. The predicted requirements for re-opening will include fewer numbers of present employees, selective access to workspaces, and regulated social distancing within the office. This will prove to be extremely difficult to regulate in open-plan offices, but these measures can be easily implemented in flexible workspaces. In fact, companies like The Professional Centre have already begun the process. Those invested in the Future of Work should look towards flexible workspaces for the necessary security, safety, and stability for their employees.


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