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Rise of the open officeThere’s hardly anything about worklife that is so hotly debated as open office design. The previously accepted cubicle format allowed more privacy for each employee. Now, though, the International Facility Management Association reports that 7 out of every 10 offices in the United States either completely nix dividers or separate desks with low partitions.
“These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs,” explained New York advertising writer Lindsay Kaufman. “Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees.”
However, many office workers have difficulty concentrating in an open environment. In other words, it can stifle productivity. Kaufman herself felt distracted after her company transitioned to that office space model.
Let’s look at how the open office layout became so widely used, how workers feel about it, and how you might want to approach your office interior design for optimal productivity.
Research bolstered the trendThe open layout has partially succeeded on the basis of its big-name adherents. Prominent adopters have included Goldman Sachs, American Express, Google, eBay, and Yahoo. Notice how those final three are all Silicon Valley companies, and they are joined by Facebook, which hired internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry to draft its open office space blueprints.
However, the open office wasn’t just a trendy decision by companies wanting to align themselves with innovative early adopters. It was backed by research, such as a landmark 1996 University of Southern California study.
“The layout of a work site can either inhibit or promote collective responsibility,” noted study author Ann Majchrzak, PhD. “In our study, process-complete departments with layouts that permitted people to see others’ work had cycle times 4.4 times faster than those with layouts that didn’t.”
Worker perception of open office designAlthough there were sound reasons that companies wanted to shift to an open model, the results are often less than ideal. A 2013 worker poll revealed the following:
• Two in three say noise is a problem
• 53% are distracted by others when they attempt to concentrate
• Compared to five years ago, individual directed work has risen (from 48% to 54%) while collaborative projects have dropped (from 30% to 24%).
The same survey suggested that productivity went down 6% between 2008 and 2013 – a time period when open layouts were being increasingly adopted.
Strategic approach to office interior designThe fact is that designing an office is complex because you do have conflicting variables. The cubicle that was first seen in the 1960s became abhorrent to people during the early 90s recession, when people were being packed more closely together and workers had increasingly less access to sunlight. The open office can enhance interaction, but it can also make it difficult to focus.
If you want productivity, experts say that your office should be designed so that you have excellent air quality, minimal distractions, and as much access to natural light as possible. Furthermore, diversifying your workplace environments allows ideal spaces for group and individual work.
Discuss your needs with a design specialist today.