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Open plans are being introduced in offices of professions like law and medicine–not just for administrative employees and call center workers. One major motivation for companies to make the switch to open plan is to cut costs. With open workstations, more employees fit into less space.
“You really couldn’t put a person into a 6-by-8 closed office very comfortably. We would call it like a prison cell. But we easily sit in 6 by 8, 6 by 6, or a 6-by-4-foot desk in an open-plan environment. You can reduce the amount of space you need substantially.”
Over the past 4 decades, office layouts have been shifting to open-plan models that include more co-working spaces. The most recent data available from the International Facility Management Association puts the percentage of open-office/bullpen environments at 68%. Two of the main reasons for the layout shift are that an open-plan environment provides more opportunities for collaboration (both planned and spontaneous), and more of a sense of community among employees.
According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, companies that encouraged collaboration by switching from closed-offices to open-offices experienced performance increases (speed and accuracy of work) by about 440%! Such changes to office layouts must be carefully planned and done for the right reasons to be effective.
“Shifting employees from closed or private space to open space will only work if the need for privacy is recognized and accommodated for as well. This can be handled by providing what is often referred to as ‘short-stay rooms’ or telephone rooms. They are usually small one- and two- person private rooms where a worker can make a private call, engage in a conference call so as not to disturb neighbors, or do heads-down work where one requires privacy. These spaces are usually not dedicated to an individual and are not to be occupied for more than half a day at a time.”
All the planning of new office plans won’t do much good if the employees don’t take full advantage of the spaces. When introducing a more open office plan to employees, it’s also important to incorporate a change management program. Someone in the office should understand the reasons for the layout choices and its benefits, so they can properly introduce them to the team.