The Workplace Blog

New Ways of Working Part 3 - Open Plan Areas

[fa icon="calendar"] 12-Oct-2015 15:51:00 / by Jim Fidler

Introduction to the Open Plan Office.

The Open Plan area within an office space is an essential element of an Agile Working environment.

When we talk about open-plan office space we mean the areas of an office that are populated by individual workstations only. In an Agile Office Design it is the team working area – the main hub for idea generation and working alongside your team.

For most people, however, it means the archetypical traditional office with rows of desks and very little to break up the monotony and density of the working space. Understandably the open-plan office regularly has (and does) come under fire for being a soul-destroying and mind-numbing work environment. However, when used carefully as part of a good agile workspace design, the open-plan space becomes a key and productive part of the office.


The biggest Open Plan office in the world

Facebook has recently opened what is reputed to be the largest open plan office design in the world. This gargantuan office houses 2,800 staff in one room measuring over a quarter of a mile long. Known as “The Hackers Cave”, the new Facebook headquarters building in Silicon Valley, California has a floor area of over 434,000 square feet. The office complex is spread across 22 acres, the building boasts tunnels to Facebook's current campus, and even a rooftop park filled with cafes and barbecue areas.

Business advantages of an Open Plan office layout

  • One important benefit of open plan office design is that it is certainly the most space efficient method of accommodating staff, particularly compared to individual cellular offices or cubicles.
  • In addition the fitout costs associated with an open-plan layout are significantly less - fewer walls mean reduced labour and materials required to create the office space, the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system is much simpler and therefore cheaper, and so on.
  • Having a single large work space also may reduce heating/cooling and electricity expenses thanks to improved flow of air and light.
  • Businesses can also save on office equipment costs as well, since communal spaces promote the shared use of resources such as printers, copiers and binders etc.
  • The open-plan work space can also produce an increase in collaboration and idea generation – leading to business innovation and improved responsiveness to business challenges.
  • An open-plan space also provides greater ongoing flexibility to accommodate the ever-evolving needs of the typical dynamic business.


Business disadvantages of an Open Plan office layout

If open-plan spaces are used in isolation then there are a number of disadvantages for the business and the workers using them.

  • Cramped working conditions – if companies get greedy and obsessed with cramming as many staff as possible into a space then the result is cramped working conditions, potentially fire safety implications with reduced routes of escape and also trip hazards.
  • Noise levels and distractions – the biggest complaint from users of high-density open-plan offices is the uncomfortable noise levels resulting in increased distractions and reduced concentration.


The fact is that an open plan office design is not an ideal environment for staff to be able to concentrate or have a requirement for privacy.  This is why you need the additional 4 elements of agile working [See 5 Elements of agile working infographic] to create the perfect formula for your workplace.

Open Plan Office ebook

Topics: Productivity, Agile Working, creativity, New Ways of Working