What Is An Open Office Plan?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 24, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated August 24, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

An open office plan calls for removing physical walls and creating a large, open and activity-based workplace to promote co-worker collaboration and job productivity. Instead of closing off employees in cubicles, open plans have areas for conversation and interaction to enhance spontaneous brainstorming sessions and idea-sharing. Lack of walls or other obstacles allows freedom of movement and the ability to change the floor plan based on the needs of the company at any given time.

Some private spaces may be allocated for higher executives, but generally, the idea behind such an open design is to diminish the traditional way that individuals of varying positions or authority are situated. In an open office plan, for example, an art director may sit and work next to an entry-level copywriter. A break room might have couches for group conversations. In this article, we discuss what an open office plan is, the different types and the benefits and challenges for co-workers and workspaces.

What is an open office plan?

The open office layout places coworkers into a large singular space that is void of most physical barriers in the hopes of promoting better collaboration and improved job productivity. Essentially the opposite of the cubicle design method, an open office allows individuals to see one another, thereby increasing the likelihood of spontaneous brainstorming sessions and idea-sharing. Typically, office equipment and other resources are available within the same open room as all staff members. Lack of walls or other obstacles allows freedom of movement and the ability to change the floor plan based on the needs of the company at any given time.

Some private spaces are allocated towards higher executives, but generally, the idea behind such an open design is to diminish the traditional way that individuals of varying positions are situated. In an open office plan, an art director can be sitting and working next to an entry-level copywriter.

Types of open office plans

The open office plan offers various styles based on the needs of the company and its employees:

Co-working office layout

A co-working space is usually membership-driven and is used by several individuals or businesses who share the same office. Resources are also shared within these spaces, such as phones, printers and photocopiers, as well as a receptionist and custodial services. Co-working offices are ideal for independent contractors, small-sized businesses and telecommuters, who may not have the funds to rent or lease their own office space. Co-working spaces are a great solution for Individuals who don't want to work from coffee shops or who find working from home too isolating.

Co-working spaces offer independent contractors and small businesses a professional setting to conduct meetings. There is normally an area dedicated to an open floor plan with desks where people can feel as though they are part of a community. Other sections of such a space are dedicated to private meeting rooms as well as both individual and team-based offices.

Related: Collaboration Skills: Definition and Examples

Team-based office layout

The team-based office layout is a newer take on the traditional meeting room where desks and resources are arranged according to teams. There is still a feeling of openness for the employees, but the way that they are grouped within the open office plan is much more structured. Individuals involved in the same projects or working in the same department can enjoy much more effective communication and project completion when grouped together. Some team-based office layouts provide a physical enclosure for teams where privacy issues are concerned.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples

Low or half-partitioned office layout

The low or half-partitioned office layout is a great compromise for companies that want the best of the cubicle layout and the open office layout. Rather than being encompassed by the isolating walls of a full-sized cubicle, employees are separated by a low partition. This style of office design gives employees privacy when seated, while still maintaining a sense of openness. Individuals can focus on their work without visual distractions but have the option of open and easy communication with co-workers.

Fully open office layout

The open office layout has little to no partitions separating co-workers. This type of design is popular among tech companies as well as businesses that want to adopt a modern aesthetic to their office space. The open office layout is most effective with businesses that use the latest technology. Laptops and tablets allow for mobility within the work setting, which means employees are not physically tied to any one particular desk.

Benefits of an open office plan

The open office plan can help implement several positive changes to your company, some of which include:

  • Better supervision: Without cubicles or partitions in the way, employers can keep a better eye on their staff and ensure productivity.

  • Employee satisfaction: Companies such as tech startups may have happier employees, who benefit more from open communication and shared workspaces.

  • Lower costs: The open office plan is cheaper for companies to build because of the limited infrastructure that is required to construct individual workstations and small offices. An open space also fits more desks and resources.

  • Aesthetically pleasing and visually stimulating: Companies can visually showcase their workplace culture to visitors or touring groups. An open space is also more attractive for photoshoots and marketing campaigns.

  • Flexible workspace: Lack of permanent infrastructure means staff can change the layout of their space at any time. Moving around desks to create workstations or teams can lead to greater productivity.

  • Enhanced collaboration: Sitting at a communal table or a shared space allows for the free flow of conversation and ideas.

Related: 6 Tips for Effective Teamwork

How to overcome open office plan challenges

Here are a few key solutions when dealing with open office plan challenges:

  1. Create private workstations.

  2. Offer an option for quiet.

  3. Rearrange desks.

  4. Create multiple workstations.

1. Create private workstations

Lack of privacy within the workplace doesn't suit everyone's work ethic equally. Some employees may need a place to retreat to focus better and complete their tasks on time. Employers can implement a few enclosed workstations to give some employees the feeling of having solitude. Collapsible, cubicle-style booths are a great solution for office spaces that want temporary physical infrastructure.

2. Offer an option for quiet

Open office layouts can get noisy. Without meeting rooms and private offices, it's easier for employees to become distracted by various conversations going on around them. Sitting at a communal table may inspire great brainstorming sessions, but it also means that you can hear people taking phone calls and eating their lunches. Some employees may not mind the noise, but others may need complete silence in order to work efficiently. Employers can purchase noise-canceling headphones for employees to use when they see fit. Another option is to build or assign quiet zones to certain areas of the office. Employees can book a quiet space ahead of time if needed.

3. Rearrange desks

You don't have to keep up with the original design. As the workplace culture evolves, so will the needs of your business and its employees. Rearranging desks is a very simple and inexpensive way to improve employee satisfaction, and it can be done multiple times throughout the year. Desks can be arranged according to teams, project goals and privacy needs. Some employees may find a new desk configuration refreshing.

4. Create multiple workstations

Give employees the option to work in multiple areas of the office. A change of scene can boost creativity levels and reenergize your employees. Implementing workstations offers variety and gives employees the opportunity to leave an area that no longer serves them. Factors such as an unpleasant odor, a cold draft or glare on the computer screen can greatly inhibit job productivity and being able to move to another workstation will ensure that workflow doesn't get interrupted.

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