Open Plan Or Closed Offices – Which are More Productive?

open plan office

The debate between open-planned and closed interior design spaces has increased in recent times, with open-planned spaces continuing to surge in popularity.

While the debate between the two options has never really caught on in the residential sector, where personal choice more often than not dictates the creation of open or closed spaces, in the office design sector the conflict truly sparks up.

The arguments for and against both have gone so far as to capture the interest of the NSW Government, which have been instrumental in the creation of the state’s Workplace guidelines.

Those guidelines have been devised following Cornell University’s International Workplace Studies Program report “Offices that Work” by Franklin Becker, PhD and William Sims, PhD.

The study found that, under the right circumstances, “the more open the environment, the more frequent the communication and the shorter the duration.” This saw an encouragement of joint innovation and quick problem-solving sessions “rather than being viewed as interruptions” and actually “provided very fast feedback and response time, allowing work to move forward overall.”

Not only was innovation shared and conflicts resolved efficiently, team building was increasingly more successful in open space workplaces than in closed offices.

open plan office aerial view

“In organisations where teamwork and collaboration are critical, socialising is the glue that binds a team together,” says the report.

While open work spaces may encourage innovation and work efficiency, however, they have also been noted to promote distractions, stress, and one other thing that kills productivity in its tracks. Workers in closed offices were able to concentrate better than those in low-walled, open-planned work spaces.

While productivity is one factor in the debate between open and closed-planned offices, employee health was also affected by design.

A researcher into the open workplace, Dr. Vinesh Oommen of the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation relays the shocking statistics associated with this type of layout.

“In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover,” says Dr. Vinesh.

He found that open plan office spaces saw higher levels of blood pressure and an increased risk of bugs such as the influenza virus.

closed plan office room

With what is now known about the benefits and pitfalls of both types of workspace, the debate continues as to which of the two is better. Is it more beneficial to keep employees locked away from communication, innovation, team building and efficient problem solving sessions in a closed office or to embrace the positive aspects of open plan while risking stress and serious health problems?

Perhaps the answer is neither.

The earlier report suggests a third option, one that promotes a healthy balance of shared space and communication opportunity. That is the shared ‘bullpens’, work pods and closed offices.

 These choices enable concentration and team building and stand as the current benchmark of new office design layouts. They offer to fill the gap, creating a balanced, productive workplace that does not run the high germ risk.

Jane Parkins
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