Small businesses come in many shapes and sizes—so do their offices. Contemporary workplaces have become more diverse and creative in terms of layout and design, which can make it challenging to decide on a style that best suits your company’s workflow, culture, and people.
As co-working has gained in popularity, open-plan office layouts have been trending across industries and in urban and suburban environments. Despite the fact that businesses large and small have embraced this concept, there is considerable debate about how employees feel about working in open environments and the impact this style of workplace has on productivity and morale.
Just as your business has its own unique mission, your physical spaces should support your goals and objectives as well as reflect your distinctive brand. If you are creating your workspace from scratch, moving to new quarters, or planning a total office makeover, consider these pros and cons of open offices when making design decisions:
1: More Cost Effective
One compelling reason why 70% of offices in the U.S. utilize an open floorplan is cost. Small businesses can better utilize their space and maximize the cost per square foot, and the setup is far less expensive than traditional cubicles or private offices. In a study comparing the price of 50 standing desks with the price of 50 cubicles, Capterra found the cost for cubicles was more than twice as much. With less overhead, you can ensure each employee has the necessary space and equipment they need to be productive.
2: Improved Communication and Morale
The benefits of open offices are not just financial. These workspaces are designed to foster camaraderie and improve communication. With an open floorplan, peers have more opportunity to work with instead of next to each other. The absence of walls and doors serves to discourage office secrets and harassment, and the open layout literally removes barriers between employees and managers. In addition to leveling the workforce playing field, this can make it easier for staff and supervisors to build relationships and for your leadership team to oversee tasks and manage employees.
3: Greater Flexibility
Open workspaces offer the ultimate in flexibility, making them an ideal choice for small businesses with big expansion plans. With cubicles or individual offices, there is a fixed amount of room for each employee. The volume and configuration of space in an open layout can be adjusted as your company grows; in a traditional office, you might be forced to rent multiple floors or buildings in order to expand. If you need to downsize or shift team responsibilities, you can rearrange the layout as you see fit or simply move a team to a different area.
1: Less Privacy
In an open office, what you gain in communication, you lose in privacy. With coworkers sitting directly next to or across from each other, the lack of privacy can help ensure that employees stay focused and waste less time on personal business while at their stations or computers. However, it also means every conversation, phone call, or check-in becomes that much more public.
2: Decreased Productivity
Without walls to separate workers, distractions are inevitable. This can put a damper on some of the positive aspects of open plans such as teambuilding and brainstorming. Employees in open workspaces often start taking more notice of their coworkers’ bad habits, allowing them to become irritating or even preventing them from doing their jobs efficiently. Depending on your company culture and the dynamics between employees, a chatty or problematic officemate can ultimately contribute to increased stress, passive aggression, and higher turnover rates.
3: Increased Health Risk
Collaboration can spread in open offices, but so can illnesses. With no barriers to block germs and no cubicles to help quarantine sick employees, workers in these settings take more sick days according to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Small business owners opting for open offices need to be vigilant about taking precautions to limit the spread of germs. Disinfecting equipment and workstations regularly to help ensure a germ-free environment can require additional time and money for cleaning supplies or staff.
Choosing the Ideal Office for Your Small Business
Given these and other pros and cons, it’s clear there is no right answer to the question about the viability and efficiency of open offices. Each business owner must determine the best fit for their particular situation. For instance, if your staff thrives in collaborative settings, consider an open floorplan. If privacy and minimal distractions are valued and socializing is limited to after hours, a more traditional layout may be the right approach. If you choose a private office setup, make sure you promote collaboration and maintain a positive company culture through regular check-ins, meetings, and team-building activities.
The ideal workspace may be a marriage of the two environments. A hybrid office gives collaborative teams the flexibility and accessibility of an open plan while providing privacy for those who require it such as finance or HR managers. Make sure all staff have access to closed conference areas, huddle rooms, and other private nooks where conversations, meetings, and phone calls can take place.
Coworking pioneer WeWork argues that traditional office environments “can appear behind the times” and negatively impact a company’s brand image. However, trendiness should never be reason enough to sway your decision. Your workers’ happiness, wellbeing, and productivity should always be the top priorities.
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