Pros and Cons of Open Office Plans: Is It the Right Choice?

Updated February 28, 2023

A person sitting at a cluttered desk in a busy office, using a laptop.

The idea behind implementing an open office plan is to alter the traditional way that individuals of varying positions or authority situate themselves. In an open office plan, for example, an art director may sit and work next to an entry-level copywriter. Learning about an open office plan may help you decide if using one within a team setting is beneficial. 

In this article, we discuss the definition of an open office plan, describe its different types and explore the benefits and challenges of this plan for teams.

What is an open office plan?

An open office layout places coworkers into a large singular space that's 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. The lack of walls or other obstacles allows freedom of movement and the ability to change the floor plan based on the needs of the team.

A team may allocate some private spaces for higher executives, but generally, the idea behind such an open design is to diminish the traditional working location of individuals holding varying positions. In an open office plan, an art director can sit and work next to an entry-level copywriter.

Related: How To Design an Office in 7 Steps

Types of open office plans

The open office plan offers various styles based on the needs of the team:

Coworking office layout

A coworking space is usually membership-driven and several individuals or businesses who use it share the same office. They also share resources within these spaces, such as phones, printers and photocopiers, and a receptionist and custodial services.

Coworking offices are ideal for independent contractors, small businesses and telecommuters who may not have the funds to rent or lease their own office space. Coworking spaces are a great solution for individuals who don't want to work from coffee shops or who find working from home too isolating.

Coworking spaces offer independent contractors and small businesses a professional setting to conduct meetings. There's normally an area dedicated to an open floor plan with desks where people can feel as though they're part of a community. You may dedicate other sections of such a space to private meeting rooms and 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 you arrange desks and resources according to teams. There's still a feeling of openness for the team members, but how you group them 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: 7 Examples of Important Teamwork Skills

Low or half-partitioned office layout

A low or half-partitioned office layout is a great compromise for teams that want the benefits of both the cubicle layout and the open office layout. Rather than experiencing the isolating walls of a full-sized cubicle, a low partition separates team members.

This style of office design gives team members 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 coworkers.

Related: Office Administrator vs. Office Manager: What's the Difference?

Fully open office layout

The open office layout has little to no partitions separating coworkers. This type of design is popular among tech companies and teams that want to adopt a modern aesthetic to their office space. The open office layout is most effective with teams that use the latest technology. Laptops and tablets allow for mobility within the work setting, which means team members don't work solely at one particular desk.

Related: Front Office vs. Middle Office vs. Back Office in Investment Banking: What's the Difference?

Benefits of an open office plan

The open office plan can help implement several positive changes to a team, 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.

  • Team member satisfaction: Companies such as tech startups may have happier team members, who benefit more from open communication and shared workspaces.

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

  • Aesthetically pleasing and visually stimulating: Teams can visually showcase their workplace culture to visitors or touring groups. An open space is also more attractive for photo shoots 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 Top Tips for Better 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

Lack of privacy within the workplace doesn't suit everyone's work ethic equally. Some team members 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 team members the feeling of solitude. Collapsible, cubicle-style booths are a great solution for office spaces that want temporary physical infrastructure.

Related: How To Land an Office Job and 13 Entry-Level Office Positions To Apply For

2. Provide quiet spaces

Open office layouts can get noisy. Without meeting rooms and private offices, it's easier for team members 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 team members may not mind the noise, but others may need complete silence to work efficiently.

Employers can purchase noise-canceling headphones for team members to use when they see fit. Another option is to build or assign quiet zones to certain areas of the office. Team members can book a quiet space ahead of time if needed.

Related: Back Office: Definition and Importance

3. Rearrange desks

It's not a requirement to maintain the original design. As the workplace culture evolves, so do the needs of a team. Rearranging desks is a simple and inexpensive way to improve team member satisfaction, and you can do it multiple times throughout the year. You can arrange desks according to teams, project goals and privacy needs. Some team members may find a new desk configuration refreshing.

Related: 12 Career Goals for Office Managers To Reach

4. Designate work areas

Give team members the option to work in multiple areas of the office. A change of scene can boost creativity levels and re-energize a team. Implementing workstations offers variety and gives team members the opportunity to leave an area that no longer serves them.


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