At the moment, you only need to search online for the term ‘open plan office’ and you’ll be met with a flood of articles, journals and studies that sit either side of a currently raging debate as to the pros and cons of an open plan office design.

The debate has become noticeably one sided recently, to the extent where we had to dig deep to find an article that actually extolled the virtues of open plan spaces;

The open plan office experiment that actually worked.

Whereas we found an awful lot more that opposed it;

Google got it wrong

Open plan offices suck

The open office trap

And these were just a handful.

Out in the open

We’ve not really entered the debate until now and, to be honest, we won’t be drawn on a position either way. Not because we’re lily-livered fence sitters, but because we genuinely believe that there are benefits for both forms of layout. It all depends on the needs of a business, the culture that they’ve created in the organisation, the way that staff use a space and the work that they’re going to be doing in it. These aspects should all impact on the approach that’s taken at the early stages of an office design project.

 EADS18 Paramount Office Opening..18.12.12.©Steve Pope

In our recent article that predicted some of the office design trends you can expect to see in 2015, I addressed some of the perceived perils of the open plan office; ambient noise, lack of privacy, increased stress levels and an inability to concentrate. Many of these issues are often cited in criticisms of the open plan layout, but it’s worth remembering that there are any number of ways to minimise and combat the problems related to acoustics in the office.

One space, many uses

We’ve already explored how open offices encourage creativity and collaboration through spaces that create chance encounters between staff, but the need for areas where people can get away from it all are just as important. That’s why we will always suggest an approach that embraces activity based work settings, providing staff with areas specific to the work they will be doing in it.

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Alasdair McIntyre, our Sales & Marketing Director, had this to add;

“When it comes to looking at the current cellular vs open plan office debate, there is never a one-size-fits-all solution, what may work really well for a specialist team of city patent attorneys certainly won’t work for a call centre that requires a higher density and the atmosphere of a sales environment.

My view is that it’s the skill of the interior architects or workplace design team to evaluate how the business operates, what processes need to improve, which teams need to collaborate more and then how the organisation can facilitate and map the space to maximise efficiencies and improve performance.

For me, once this has been worked through the space should become activity based, fit for the purposes of the organisation now and also enabling growth, considering the business strategy, advancements of technology and work trends.

Engaging with the workforce earlier on in the process and having a strong leadership team keeping everybody updated is imperative, as is the ability to track, measure and analyse the performance throughout the lifecycle of the final design, minimising any subjective negativity and delivering a data driven solution, ultimately enabling the business to grow and perform to the best of its ability.”

Our final thoughts

Wherever you stand on the open office debate, the most important thing to remember when exploring your design options for an office fit-out is ensuring that the space meets the needs and culture of staff. Whether that means more collaborative open areas or closed rooms for concentration and solitude will differ from business to business.

Written by Helen Bartlett, Design Manager