Is an 'Open' Office Floor Plan the Best for Your Company?

By Cheri O'Neil September 12, 2017 at 2:00pm

Once upon a time, cubicles and private offices were all the rage in corporate workspaces, with their sound-proof barriers and privacy partitions. Then the walls were cleared out and long, shared desks moved in, to make way for the more contemporary “open” office floor plan.

If you’re a manager, you may be making a move to open your workspaces, too. An open office floor plan would save the company money, after all, allowing you to ditch the doors so you can promote accessibility and teamwork among your employees.

Taking the lead from tech startups, traditional companies have embraced open-space layouts in recent years. But not everybody’s on board with them, a new Robert Half survey shows. Respondents said open floor plans may help collaboration and isolation, but they have definite downsides when it comes to productivity, creativity, energy levels and stress.

See the survey results in The Optimal Office Space Configuration slideshow, below.

Is there an ideal workspace for finance teams?

Kathleen Downs, a vice president with Robert Half Finance & Accounting, says there’s no one-model-fits-all office floor plan for every company.

“The ideal workspace may be a hybrid office that allows for collaboration with communal areas but also is designed to accommodate the need for quieter, enclosed spaces,” she says. “Employers should consider the balance of company culture, workflows, job functions, department needs and employee preferences.”

Just as managers need to effectively lead and motivate multiple generations in the workforce, they should also make an effort to create an office setting that’s attractive to candidates and longtime employees.

“In today’s hiring environment, firms are willing to compete fiercely for your top performers, and recruitment and retention efforts should be top of mind,” Downs said. “Aside from providing the essentials, such as phones, computers and comfortable chairs, you should think about your work environment as a whole and whether it’s considered a bonus or a stumbling block.”

Pros and cons of office configurations

One of the ways managers can decide what’s right for their office, Downs says, is to consider the pros and cons of the different office configurations:

  • Private offices — enclosed space for one worker with a door.

Pros: Employees can make business and personal phone calls, hold meetings or have private conversations without being seen or heard by other staff members.

Cons: They’re expensive and require more space to implement. Workers who close their doors can seem unapproachable.

  • Private cubicles — enclosed area for one worker with tall walls that are not ceiling height, allowing the person inside to hear but not see colleagues.

Pros: They provide some privacy.

Cons: Outside discussions can be distracting, and employees worried about disrupting others might avoid conversations, prohibiting collaboration.

  • Semi-private cubicles — designated space with short walls that allow workers to see and hear each other.

Pros: Professionals can see each other, making it easier to have spontaneous conversations. This option offers an open floor plan feel, but also allows workers to feel ownership of their space.

Cons: Impromptu conversations can be disruptive to nearby workers trying to focus.

  • Open floor plan — undesignated areas for workers, free of dividing walls; can include a communal table with bench seating or movable furniture.

Pros: This option saves on overhead costs and is best for roles, departments or industries that require a high level of collaboration.

Cons: It's not ideal for introverted personalities or those who require a quiet space for concentration. It also lacks sound privacy for confidential discussions.

  • Combination of open and closed workspaces — includes some private work stations such as offices, private or semi-private cubicles, as well as areas for collaboration such as couches in a designated area.

Pros: It isn't as disruptive as other types of configurations and allows for employees to gather in common areas.

Cons: It's more expensive to implement and can take more time to design this type of space.

Remember that top companies are constantly reinventing themselves, and as your company evolves, so will your office environment. Whatever workspace change you decide on for your office dwellers — open, closed or somewhere in between — should be a tactical decision, one that’s accompanied with adequate advance notice to your staff.

Create a physical setting where people want to work, and both collaboration and productivity will come your way.

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Kathleen Downs
Kathleen Downs

Kathleen Downs, a vice president with Robert Half Finance & Accounting, started with the company in 2000. Before that, she was CEO of a recreation/retail/education organization in Bonn, Germany. Kathleen is actively involved with a number of professional organizations within the finance and accounting field and sits on several not-for-profit boards.

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