To channel my inner Jerry Seinfeld, “What’s the deal with the open floor plan? I mean, it’s meant to foster collaboration, but no one’s collaborating!”
Have you walked the floor of a large advertising or creative agency? You could hear a pin drop. Everyone has their earbuds jammed into their ears. I don’t see massive amounts of collaboration. And the teammates who need to sit down for a private meeting… they’re jammed, clown-car style, into a pod or phone booth. The ones that are actually trying to collaborate in this oh-so-collaborative open floor environment are being so loud and disruptive that they’re getting death stares from their colleagues.
You have an important sales call? Good luck with that. Try the stairway shaft. Maybe the copy room. Maybe try the lunch room during off hours while TJ and Meghan are collaborating over a cold-brew while talking about how good the chef’s Poke was today but how they wished they didn’t run out of hijiki seaweed so quickly. Ugh, don’t you hate when that happens?
The open floor-plan has become a hallmark of contemporary office design, signaling that a business is innovative, forward-thinking, and a “fun” place to work.
Think pieces on the future of work and trend pieces on 5 ways to make millennial employees happy cite communal design, flex space, office mobility, or hot desking as the expected norm for attracting top talent (that alongside onsite acupuncture, meditation classes and mid-afternoon planking sessions). The warning to CEOs has been, ‘ignore the call of the open floor plan and risk obsolescence.’
Business leaders and workplace strategists that promote open floor plans claim the elimination of cubicles and office doors fosters collaboration and limits hierarchical divisions. Michael Bloomberg helped lead early adoption of the concept, implementing it across Bloomberg Media and again in city hall when he became Mayor of New York. Silicon Valley followed suit, with Mark Zuckerberg opening a bullpen in 2012 to house 3,000 engineers at Facebook. It’s not just tech companies like Google and eBay who’ve joined the bandwagon, finance companies including Goldman Sachs and Amex have adopted open floor plans as well.
Today, it's the norm for TAMI office spaces to accommodate the open floor plan that creative and tech professionals have come to expect and, as research indicates, dread.
Recent research on workplace satisfaction proves that “open-plan layouts are widely acknowledged to be more disruptive due to uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy.” With increased disruptions comes a lack of productivity and a rise in employee frustration. But these findings shouldn’t come as a surprise, a survey from 1982 found “no evidence … to support the claim for improved productivity in open-plan.”
Workplace trends may not be the only factor driving open-floor plan adoption. This new configuration of office spaces can also lower a company’s overhead expenses. Open floor plans require less square footage per employee than required when designing a floor plan around offices or cubicle space. But is the money companies save on square footage worth the price of employee discomfort, frustration and poor productivity which all affect your bottom line? How about, no.
Is it any surprise that the rise of the open floor plan has coincided with the increasing popularity of flexible work hours and remote working policies? Research from the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health (um yeah, who doesn’t read the Scandinavian Journal?) has found that occupants sharing an office and occupants in open-plan offices had significantly more days of sickness absence than occupants in traditional offices, where each employee has a private, dedicated space. Employees won’t just be less productive when they are in the office, open floor plans increase the likelihood that they’ll stop showing up.
Will this research and the rise of workplace strategy initiatives in CRE push the needle of workplace strategies back towards a more traditional model that prioritizes privacy (and actual productivity)? Or will cultural cache and the perceived cost-saving benefits allow open floor plans to overstay their welcome in office design practices?
It’s not “all about the benjamins,” everyone. Take a look around your office. Just don’t make any noise, you’ll get a dirty look.
GUEST BLOG CONTRIBUTED BY:
Phil Kanfer is National Director of Business Development for WiredScore, the company behind Wired Certification, the world’s only rating system for digital connectivity in commercial buildings. Learn more about how Wired Certification helps businesses identify office buildings with best-in-class connectivity at wiredscore.com