Why the Open Office Layout Failed and What Designers Are Doing to Fix It

Just a few years ago, office designers had this big idea that breaking down walls would promote collaboration and increase productivity in the workplace. Architects across the country changed how offices looked and turned them into open spaces for everyone to see each other. It was revolutionary in terms of office design.

Building commissioning in Portland and other cities in the U.S. even went into overdrive to help build open-plan offices quickly, thinking this was the next big thing in office architecture. Soon after, however, employees started complaining about the setup and companies saw a decline in productivity. Here are the reasons why.

Reason #1: Noise pollution

When the open office plan was implemented, it meant that there were no longer walls to block off the sounds coming from other people’s voices, computers, and activities. These noises didn’t help employees focus on their tasks, which meant failing to meet some deadlines.

The layout was meant to inspire employees to be more open, but the effect was the opposite. Instead of employees asking their colleagues to keep their voices low, they kept quiet because not every individual was eager to confront their co-workers.

Reason #2: No privacy 

Another problem with the open office design is that it failed to take into consideration that not every individual is eager for some company. There are a lot of people out there who are introverts and find it exhausting to be around large crowds. So, if they’re stuck in an open office, their concentration is muddled.

Also, some tasks, such as writing, require solace. If one employee is tasked to write a blog article, for example, and he’s in the middle of a large crowd openly discussing marketing plans or whatnot, then that individual will find it difficult to finish his task.

Fortunately, many companies have realized their mistake and are now changing the layout of their offices once more. But, instead of going back to putting cubicles in their offices, they are looking towards more unorthodox ways to promote productivity.

Fix #1: More natural light

Studies have shown that many employees suffer from stress and depression simply because they don’t get enough sunlight. So, companies these days are working towards opening up their offices more to let natural light in. They are building bigger windows to allow more natural light in.

Fix #2: More indoor plants

Open office layout

Offices are also using more plants in their workplaces for a variety of reasons. One is that plants are effective air filters, which offices need because the air there can get stale. Another reason is that plants promote productivity.

According to several studies, plants in the workplace have a direct correlation with employees’ performances. The more plants there are in an office, the more productive and creative the employees become.

Fix #3: More recreational tools

Some companies have also realized that their employees are more productive when they get to take a break every now and then to do something other than work. That's why offices have started building recreational rooms where employees can play ping pong or even climb walls.

If you’re planning to design your office, leave the open office plan behind. What you should do is to study your employees and come up with a layout that will fit their needs instead of following what’s trending these days.

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