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The Virtues and Downfalls of the Open Office Design

This morning, the three of us were discussing one of our upcoming projects, where a client is looking to completely redesign their workplace to suit a contemporary open office plan, and how we might best achieve this for them in a practical way.


As commercial rents increase, we see a lot more clients looking to add density to the workplace, while maintaining employee satisfaction. We all know that an open office is meant to increase collaboration between employees, but how often does this end up backfiring, and creating a distracting environment for those who work in a slightly more introverted way?


Last month, Erika had the pleasure of attending the Global Showroom and Factory tour in Toronto, with other design professionals from Winnipeg and across Eastern Canada. There was a lot of discussion among the group surrounding the constantly shrinking footprint of the modern office environment, and how we, as designers, can increase employee satisfaction through thoughtful workplace interior design.


The consensus was that we experience such a diversity of personality types in the workplace, and it's really important that we don't take a "one size fit's all" approach to design.



CASE STUDY


We recently designed an office for a group that works with large-scale drawings all day, every day. It was critical that this group had the space to comfortably review drawings, and then implement any changes on their desktop computers.


Open layout, 4' benching would not have worked for them, and if we tried to implement this ideology, the employees would not have had enough surface space for their drawings, and it could have been distracting to a type of work that often requires focus on details.


In the new design, each employee had a private office, with ample desk space, centered around an open area with a multipurpose table for more collaborative work. Every office had a full glass front, with glass doors as well. This allowed each individual to have enough space to do their work effectively, with sound separation if needed, but with easy access to a collaborative space when needed, in a very organic way.

Some offices can really benefit from an open office layout. If the type of work, and technology used, allows for a lot of movement in the office then it can be a really effective approach that allows for flexibility and choice within the workplace which is something more and more people are looking for.


A few things to keep in mind if you're looking at going to an open office layout :

  1. When employees have smaller personal footprints, it is important to provide options within the office, so that a range of personality types are enabled to succeed. This might look like private phone booths, lounge space, collaborative space, or quiet zones. Interior designers are skilled at taking the space you have and configuring a plan that offers these choices to your employees.

  2. The technology and type of work must suit an open office layout. If the large majority of work is happening at a stationary desktop computer, it might be more difficult (though not impossible!) to encourage movement among the employees. If they are going to be in a small, open office work space all day, everyday, they likely won't be too happy and it might be worth considering a hybrid approach.

  3. A new design by itself won't completely change workplace behaviour, especially if the employees are very comfortable with a certain way of conducting their work. It's important that everybody gets behind the new approach, and that new ways of working are encouraged.