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The Ideal Office Plan

Posted June 25, 2015 7:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Since I graduated college and began my professional career, I've worked in two office environments, and both of them mainly utilized high-walled cubicles. My previous workplace did have some office spaces for management, but where I currently work the only physical "rooms" are conference rooms and bathrooms.

But the cubicle is actually a minority as far as workplaces go - around 70% of U.S. companies currently employ an open office plan for their workspace. Where we used to have halls of offices or cubicle walls, we now have no walls at all. This is the case with many big-name entities like Google, Facebook, and eBay, and because of their business success and innovation they have become icons in this trend.

And though office layout comparison is not a new thing, I thought I'd offer a quick look at three different models to discuss what advantages they tout:

The office design, where many or most employees have shared or individual offices, provides maximum privacy, a quieter workspace, little visual distraction, and (often) more workspace for the employee. Unfortunately, it also decreases accountability and can encourage isolation, since oral and visual contact with the supervisor and other employees requires getting up and moving. The biggest reason the true office is a dying breed, however, is that offices are not as efficient or flexible in terms of space, so it doesn't suit companies that are tight on real-estate.

The cubicle design was meant to make up for the vices of offices. Cubicles are more cost-efficient and space-efficient, and are more flexible because cubicle walls can be moved and adjusted as needed to accommodate changes in personnel. Cubicles provide some visual privacy, but are more inviting and less isolating than offices, encouraging employee interaction. This added communication comes at the cost of reduced privacy and increased potential for noise and distraction. And while I have gotten used to listening to my coworkers conversations and phones ringing, it certainly hasn't aided my productivity.

The open office goes beyond the intent of cubicles, by literally tearing down the barriers to open communication. Being free of cubicle walls, open offices provide the most flexibility and freedom in terms of use of space, and the airiness can feel more relaxing. The openness allows co-workers to easily move about, communicate, and collaborate with each other. The biggest downside is, no walls means no privacy; many people (including your supervisor) will be easily able to see and hear whatever it is you're doing or working on. Also, more efficient use of space often translates to less space per employee.

Critics have had their field day with each of these floor plans over the years, saying why one is better than the other. However, the reality is that every company is sized and staffed differently, so no cookie-cutter plan is perfect. Some engineering firms, for instance, may find they have more space to utilize and find their employees solve problems best by working independently and free of distraction for large chunks of time. In this case, an office environment would be preferred. For idea-centered companies where frequent discussion and collaboration are essential, or where there are large numbers of employees all working on similar tasks, an open office might be ideal.

As an introverted engineer, I find I work best when I have a little privacy. Though I understand the advantages, I think I would be somewhat flustered and distracted doing my work in an open office space. What about you? What environment do you prefer for your workplace and workspace?

References
Washington Post
Forbes

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#1

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/25/2015 8:20 AM

This all assumes that you have a 'blank canvas' as a starting point. Most places I've worked in are older buildings where we had to make the best use we could in an existing space. I've never worked in a cubicle & I can't recall ever visiting a company that used them. Perhaps they are more prevalent in the US than they are in the UK.

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#2

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/25/2015 10:09 AM

When I graduated from college,.... my first time a career ago, my first job was at a company (KI) that manufactured institutional and commercial furniture, with a division that did the space planning.

Government and very Large corporations can do this. It wasn't uncommon to for a faculty to have 1,000's (sometimes, 10,000's) of workstations. Other wise for smaller companies its, do what you can, when you can.

I was an engineering manager for a smaller company, 20M/year.

In engineering I preferred an open concept, just for communication for everyone to be informed. And because we got the front offices seconds...... with the exception of computers.....

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#3

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/25/2015 2:19 PM

I guess it all depends on what you are use to. I worked for a long time with office space, testing labs and industrial floor space. In those days you could tell when somebody was in their office from the quiet radios or muffled conversations you could hear in an office. Now that I'm a pawn at a table in a big room with no sound baffling, nobody can be found at all. They take their laptops and find some private place away from their cubicle. Those who must sit at their cubby hole plug their ears with one form of headphone or another. Their is no camaraderie established at all when whispers disturb your neighbors train of thought. The idea of suggesting a silly idea to get the ball rolling gets rebuked with cold stares from those without headphones and oblivion from those with headphones.

It seems that the open office environment augments the Peter principle. The ones struggling to get a job done look like the busiest ones in the room. The ones that quickly and accurately finish their tasks get bored and leave. Productivity founders on a flurry of confused efforts.

Maybe I should go back to making pizza.

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#4

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 3:17 AM

I think it's as much about the culture of the organisation as much as the structure of the layout.

I've worked with many hundreds of businesses and the most productive have been the ones with open plan and "gold-fish bowl" conference & meeting rooms. However, without the right culture in place, the invisible walls can be as much a barrier as the physical. It all depends on your starting point.

If the office is already started, I'd say these types of changes are difficult to implement but, for your own business or one that's just about to start then, go for it! Open plan offices are great places to work!

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#16
In reply to #4

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

01/04/2017 4:59 AM

Yes, I agree with Nauthstar.

Open plan office are great places to work. It makes it easier for the employees to interact with each other on a regular basis. Often seen that open plan office as the modern layout is more favored, but is not necessarily right for every firm. So nowadays, most of the small business owners look for a serviced office that is already fully furnished, which comes with all the necessary office equipment, telecommunication services and is ready for occupancy anytime and any type of business. Sometimes, clients or customers want to have a professional environment to have private conversations, where serviced offices also provide such convenience office space with boardrooms and meeting rooms. Click here or search at online websites to have the services for serviced offices, who will not only provide furnished office space but also meeting rooms and even staff are available as and when you need them.

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#17
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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

01/04/2017 8:24 AM

Interestingly, the office where I usually work is being refurbished so the 3 of us who work together have had to move out temporarily. I am now in an open plan office & I find it quite uncomfortable, the atmosphere is quite cold, not cosy & friendly as I am used to. Can't wait to get back to my newly decorated cave.

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#5

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 8:37 AM

I have never worked for a very large company with 100's or more office staff so, space was not usually a concern. I have worked in some limited open office space while new construction was ongoing, but never for a long period of time. I can see some advantages of open office space where collaboration of employees is required, but I also see the need for some privacy as well, especially where one has to really concentrate on specific details and distractions are not welcomed.

Mostly, my preference is an office(probably because I have almost always had one). But you know, my door is rarely closed and everyone knows that I am readily available if they want to discuss anything, solve a problem or whatever.

In fact, right now, both my office doors are open, to the office and to the plant.

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#6

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 9:15 AM

My ideal office plan

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#8
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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 10:41 AM

Agreed. Nothing cramps my style more than lack of space. Having a decent chair also helps a lot. I don't want to overhear my neighbour's 'phone calls, be they business or private. Neither do I appreciate anyone staring at me while I work. If that happens to be my supervisor, I will sit back and relax, as it's just intolerable!

If I need external input(supervisor), I'll call for it. Otherwise, I'm good.

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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 11:13 AM

Our office is due to be refurbished but it's on hold because there is no space to move us to whilst the work is done. We've volunteered to temporarily move to the local pub but they seem reluctant to take us up on the offer.

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#13
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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/29/2015 9:04 AM

If you are still searching for job, being a Lifeguard meets your workspace criteria! The state of Florida has a lot of job openings too!

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#7

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/26/2015 10:01 AM

In work and office space planning and design, work flow and efficiencies are and should always be the main criteria! The layout assuming space will not be a factor is next.. And depending on the type of business, privacy may be the last in office planning! Other business tools like conference rooms, copy/printers rooms, snack /coffee rooms, rest rooms, etc. are all centrally located, falling under the efficiency category..

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#10

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/27/2015 9:03 AM

I am from India. When I started working about 30 years ago in S/W, we had "Open" office structure. No Cubicles, No Walls. With our Contacts with Developed World, we moved in to Cube Farms. While, now there is prolifiration of Cube Farms in Indian Companies now, it's interesting to see history repeating.

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#11

Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/29/2015 2:27 AM

There never ever will be a ideal office plan. Even if it is ideal for the company it might not be ideal for the individual.

I prefer an open office for anyone else and for me my own office. That's how it fits for both sides.

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#12
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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/29/2015 7:11 AM

Try working with a young interior designer that was hired for the layout of office workstations installations.

That can't begin to decide what they want until they have a layout in front of them.

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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/29/2015 9:40 AM

What about the old ones? What I see on office designs is all so diverse that I think old and new never get it right one way or the other.

It seems to be a thing of fashion.

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Re: The Ideal Office Plan

06/29/2015 10:02 AM

Fashion, maybe......

Yes, they need to look at a layout, and then they can formulate a design...... aesthetics, function, local zoning and fire code requirements.

As far as young and old, the older ones, they can be pretty strong headed, or easy going..... and by easy going I mean, if you can come up with an initial design that meets the criteria or scope, it can be pretty quick..... then there are the ones are passive/aggressive that go, this is great, just what I want,.... but.......

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