Are Open Workspaces Still A Thing?

Open workspaces. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re still a thing.

Open office plans are typically cubicle-free large spaces with shared desks and a lack of privacy, such as a wall divider. Open workspaces have been adopted by employers as an office environment for employees to better collaborate, downsize on expensive workstations like cubicles, and provide more space for modern options like lounges, coffee bars, and snack storage. Corporations began moving their employees into open-plan offices in the 1960’s when American furniture design company Herman Miller introduced the Action Office system which provided larger surface and multiple design heights. Many large tech companies like Google, Yahoo, and eBay have all implemented open floor plans for easy accessibility and more communication. However, productivity isn’t always a result of these trendy workplace designs.

Ironically, it’s been proven that about 70 percent of employees have less face-to-face interaction in open offices rather than spatial ones. While this minimalistic phenomenon seemed like a good idea at the time, it’s obvious that this hip structure is creating work efficiency problems. The main issue is glaring for employees who want to perform well—they can’t concentrate in public spaces and solve problems. This lack of privacy isn’t just distracting, it’s costing companies serious money. Employee well-being decreases and productivity sees a reduction as low as 15 percent with an open office plan due to all of the interruptions that come along with an open space. Office workers also lose more than an hour of their workday. All of these statistics add up, allowing companies to lose up to $578,000 a year.

While executives may seek openness and transparency, workers feel that their creativity and teamwork is being hindered by their environment. There are some short-term solutions for employees who can’t get away from their office space. Using noise-canceling headphones or switching from their workspace location to a lounge area in the office can help. Long-term, companies need to bring back private workstations, whether it’s full cubicles, half units, or self-contained desk sections like the innovative Zenbooth.

Ultimately, designing for privacy is the end solution. Creating “intelligent rooms” as designers like V.I.A does, is one way to engage employees in open spaces. The “intelligent rooms” provide privacy for private conversations and less noise. There are also mesh enclosures and semi-private boundaries that can be set up around the office. Even having side screens will allow workers to use their workspace in a flexible way: simply add or remove the screen when wanting privacy or collaboration. Providing multiple solutions for workers in an open office plan willow allow both leaders and employees to plan and collaborate, whether privately, publicly, or semi-publicly.

There are many collaborative office spaces throughout the U.S. that are taking this multi-functional step in the right direction. Having shared spaces, desk spaces, and solo spaces allow workers to openly talk, quietly work, or have a complete space to themselves. This model is working incredibly well for innovative coworking office spaces like WeWork, Regus, and Industrious whose memberships are growing annually.

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