A VERY BRIEF INTRODUCTION ON OPEN PLAN WORK SPACES
With everyone and their dog still shunning the out dated and positively archaic idea of living in lots of separate rooms, and in turn the trend for open plan living spaces being thoroughly embraced and at an all time high, I wanted to explore the concept of open plan working spaces. The positives and negatives for these and whether people are falling out of love with this particular working style ……has open plan had its day?
Love them or loathe them open plan work spaces have been around for quite some time. Most medium to large businesses have done the “office space 360” (open plan->cubical farm->open plan) at some point. Open plan offices spaces were also seen on our TVs, especially in the 80’s, remember all those iconic American movies? Think Working Girl, Wall street etc etc, with all their bulky, desk crushing computers, chaotic ambience and shoulder pads ….Not to mention that hair!!
But the fashion for open plan offices goes back way further than that.
The earliest image showing an example of an open plan workplace with desks (almost like mini booths) I could find is this one from The Post Office in 1809.
In 1850’s Victorian England a UK government report on office space layout stated;
“for the intellectual work, separate rooms are necessary so that a person who works with his head may not be interrupted; but for the more mechanical work, the working in concert of a number of clerks in the same room under proper superintendence, is the proper mode of meeting it”
So for anyone needing to use their brains for more than sewing bloomers, they were best off in separate rooms to not be disturbed, and open planned working was designated to machinists. Basically factory style work. The dominance of open plan offices came with the increasing demand for office based jobs and in 1906 architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Larkin Administration building in New York to be like an open factory with few walls…..The open plan work space was born.
So I presume we all know what an open plan work space looks like? Seriously? Of course we do I hear you say. For those of you who haven’t a clue here are more images of what they have looked like then and now.
By the 1950’s things were hotting up with the desire for this way of working and a German team named Quickborner developed what was called the “office landscape” by using traditional furniture, curved screens, large potted plants and organic geometry to create less rigid work groups on large, open floors. The office landscape system was replaced by office furniture companies who created open cubicles based on systems furniture. How about that then, the births of office equipment and our very own founders at Millar West were in the same decade!
SO WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS, AND WHY HAVE THEY BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL TO THE MODERN WORKING ENVIRONMENT?
IT COSTS LESS: Simply put, It costs far less to rent a big open space and plonk lots of identical desks within said space, than a office with separate rooms within it.
EASIER TO MANAGE: Less time spent thinking about how many people in what room and pondering on whether Bob and Rob would get on sharing that room with Sue etc etc. Sectioning off areas is a lot easier, cheaper and feasible than removing concrete walls.
BETTER FLOW OF COMMUNICATION: Everyone is in the same place, its so much easier to talk to coworkers as the barrier in communication is eliminated and work issues are dealt with quickly.
SENSE OF EQUALITY: Everyone feels like they are valued the same when all sitting together in the same space. Inspiring teamwork.
EASIER INTEGRATION: Socially open spaces are great. They are by far more fun, so people will integrate and make friends easier. Perfect for extroverts.
LIGHTER & BRIGHTER: Generally in a big open office space you would expect to see some windows, and with more windows comes a more natural environment. Workplaces with exposure to daylight significantly impact employees quality of life…..Natural light is good for the soul!
Buero Landschaft (office landscape) layout of the 1950s
SO WHAT IS GOING WRONG, WHY ARE COMPANIES CHANGING THEIR MINDS?
As we can see there are many positives of the open space office and it may look like the workplace of the future but increasingly they seem to be coming under fire. This concept now has a list of disadvantages, many which can be detrimental to their employees and are making them unhappy, especially true for somebody who is introvert and spending eight to ten hours a day in an environment which leaves you exhausted is no fun. Managers are starting to change their minds and are finding it impractical and unhealthy.
NOISE NOISE NOISE!: The biggest disadvantage of all must be the noise and the sometimes constant chatter of office workers has even been given a name ‘The irrelevant speech effect’. The high level of noise and continual movement of coworkers in open plan office can greatly reduce focus and concentration and in turn staff productivity which apparently drops to one third of what it would be in quite spaces! This plays havoc with their mental health, causing conflict, high blood pressure and more staff leaving through stress.
BEING WANTED: ” Can you help me? Look at this? got a minute?” Sounds familiar? If you are always available to your colleagues and having your attention diverted to other tasks you will loose focus on what is important. Productive flow is interrupted.
GERMS: Diseases and viruses spread much easier in open plan offices….Fact. This leads to more staff taking time off sick (62% more sick days in fact) and in turn lower productivity levels.
NO PRIVACY: Not that you should be on Facebook whilst at work or talking to loved ones on the phone, but just having your own space to talk privately to coworkers or clients is important and a work space lacking in this privacy where people can see and hear your every move or word can lead to feelings of withdrawal as an act of self-preservation.
ARE YOU WORKING?: Another downside to lack of privacy is your boss standing around checking on you all the time. This can make you feel pressured when you take a small breather or pop to the loo for 5 mins. Or potential clients making a visit and catching you taking an opportunist and obligatory office selfie with your pals!
HEATING COSTS: A larger space takes up more energy to heat.
SMALL COG IN A LARGE MACHINE: When workers are clustered together into spaces like corporate zombies, they can feel like just a small cog in a large machine, and not unique or important. Jeremy Paxman has said the open plan office tells workers what their bosses think of them- that they are interchangeable and there to fulfil a mechanical purpose! Clearly not a fan then.
TOO BRIGHT/COLD/HOT: Sometimes in a large room with large windows its difficult to adjust the lighting and temperature to suit individual needs.
The Quiet Revolution led by self-proclaimed introvert Susan Cain is an anti open plan movement with her institutes website recently asking”WHAT KIND OF SADIST CONCOCTED THE OPEN-PLAN OFFICE LAYOUT” and her TED talk on the subject has been viewed over 13 million times. https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en
Click the link here to read more about it and take a look to see whether you are an Introvert or Extrovert which can influence your working style. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/16/how-an-office-with-an-open-floor-plan-can-hurt-your-productivity.html
SO ARE THERE ANY SOLUTIONS? …….YES!!
We know that there are some real advantages of open plan offices, such as improved communication and the integration of teams, but how can we retain these advantages while eliminating the drawbacks such as noise and distractions??….
OFFICE/MEETING/BREAKOUT PODS, BOOTHS, FOCUS ROOMS, ENCLOSED OFFICES
Where there is an existing open plan working space many businesses are starting to experiment with these internal or acoustic office pods. Their increasing popularity is due to the obvious need for quiet zones and private meeting areas within a chaotic or actually even a quiet work space where everybody can definitely hear you! They come in all shapes, sizes, configurations, individual use, 2,4,6, plus people. Some are fixed like a room within a room and some of these “pods” are covered in acoustic treated fabrics which help external and internal noise and some are even available with a number of features including TV monitor units, music systems and led lighting to name a few…Party pod anyone?
The most beneficial point to note though is that most of these pods are freestanding so there is no need to attach them to an internal wall and they can be moved and relocated as required which offers up a lot of freedom. This also makes them less costly and time consuming as you would not need to consult your landlord as they are classed as ‘loose furniture’. Look at the pod and booth configuration below to get a better idea of how an open plan office space looks like.
CLICK THE LINK BELOW AND TAKE A LOOK AT THE STYLES OF PODS AND BOOTHS WE AT MILLAR WEST CAN OFFER, INCLUDING THE JENSEN-HUT BY VERCO AND FIFTEEN ENVIRONMENTS BY PLEDGE SEEN HERE IN OUR SHOWROOM MODELED BY OUR VERY OWN STAFF!
Taking the idea of space saving design one step further we have also for a client of ours been looking into these inflatable pods which not only look fun but also deflate and pack away into a neat bag, now that is a fantastic idea! (hopefully made from recycled/recyclable plastic….. For more on this topic see my previous blog on plastic waste https://www.millarwest.co.uk/media/plastic-free-work-space-is-it-actually-possible/
With her quest for the quiet working environment Susan Cain has also collaborated with designers Steelcase to produce a range of office pods with introverts in mind which look fabulous. Check out what they look like below. These ones are fixed but look stunning.
And in this video by our friends at Orangebox they introduce their high spec award winning acoustic pod Air3 which looks amazing.
MAIN BENEFITS OF PODS
They are QUIET and they are PRIVATE. Office pods seem to now be the future of the workplace. Not only do they keep you secluded from your coworkers and their noise, allow you to concentrate on your work instead of overhearing their conversations, they feel like you are working from home and can feel really cosy and private….Making you hopefully more productive.
TO CONCLUDE WOULD EMPLOYEES PREFER OPEN PLAN WORK SPACES OR INDIVIDUAL OFFICES?
Well with over 50% of employees saying they find their workplace too distracting I think the way forward and what actually has been on trend for a while now is to combine the two, open plan spaces interjected with these clever pods and screen systems that bring semi private working by allowing the employee to gain privacy when they need it in their working day. They can be used for meetings, breakout areas basically anywhere where employees can have quiet work space, private telephone calls, quiet break time, meet, eat, socialise, and to gain any time away from the herd…..
Even sleep. In Googles office in Sydney they have these Nap Pods!
There is really no limit to how you can utilise your working space in this modern day when you throw in a dozen or so desks a couple of pods (even like these hanging ones) and a ping pong table….After all sometimes work should be fun!