Open Plan or Not To Open Plan?

Aug 25, 2020

That is the question – and a very important one too! When configuring your space, especially in the light of current health restrictions and implications, does an open-plan layout support the longevity and security of your workplace?

Mid-Century Madmen

Let’s take a brief throwback to our mid-century world – and America particularly. Well-polished men in starched suits (enjoying their elusive morning Scotch) sitting at mahogany desk in their private office, a secretary on guard at the entrance. A pool of typists, all quietly sat at their partitioned desks hammering at the keys from 9-5. Any collaboration or interaction took place within enclosed, formal spaces, by arrangement only.

But it worked for them, didn’t it? Maybe we shouldn’t be so dismissive of the mid-centry modern offices of the 1950’s and 60s; coined the ‘madmen’ era. Distractions were non-existent and ‘work’ was something punched out on a typewriter with no questions asked. Of course, we are thankful men and women now work together and those in higher levels of authority are generally accessible to all in the flat-structured management of todays world (and Scotch is now strictly an out-of-hours treat). Technological evolution has forced the workplace to move with it – gradual amendments to design, layout and functionality bring us to the present day. Not to mention the present pandemic, turning the world on its head and accelerating workplace change at an almost unattainable pace.

The inability to disconnect

As our world evolves and grows, adaptability and innovation force our businesses to become fast paced, dynamic and competitive. Decisions need to be made quicker requiring higher levels of collaboration, interaction and connectivity. The direct consequence of this is delineated within commercial interior design, workplace layout and working practices.

It seems open plan fosters the very requirements of collaboration, connectivity and interaction. Workplaces have been imbibing this agile strategy all around the globe in recent years. But recent turbulence caused by the world pandemic has brought with it winds of caution. A complete open plan footprint does not support the restrictions now imposed in our world since March 2020. Many business leaders have been forced not only to make home working normal practice, but devise plans to support the reintroduction of teams to previous spaces without exposing them unnecessarily to health dangers. While people now require more physical space in the office, the free-flow of air between workstations is now unadvisable. Many companies have planted temporary screens to comply with requirements, but the long-term sustainability of this arrangement is doubtable.

…and the flaws?

The single, most common sticking point with an entirely open-plan environment is unsurprisingly noise and distraction. But the compartmentalised environment of the ‘madmen’ era would equally have the opposite issue – no human interaction whatsoever. In office design for our clients, it’s typically a personalised blend of the two. A primary desk area with non-obtrusive, moveable screens for semi-collaborative day to day work, surrounded by ‘zoned’ areas for quiet focus, open collaboration and brainstorming. To work effectively, these areas are supported with relevant technology and equipment to enable these spaces to be utilised and floorspace to give the greatest return on investment.

So while open plan, agile workspaces have definitely reaped benefits for businesses (apart from the introverts out there, but that’s one for another time!) the imposed restrictions of recent months call for a carefully crafted space which promotes agility but has some level of compartmentalisation conducive to productivity and engagement (and not a ‘covid-proof’ cardboard box around your desk).

In conclusion…

So back to our question; open plan or not? It is impossible to lay a law here as each business needs a tailored design to suit unique requirements, but it’s sure to say that a spatially aware and conscientiously created workplace considering the needs of individuals and collective teams will give you the best success with a productive, engaging and inspirational workspace.

Looking to begin the journey of change in your workplace? We’d love to be your office fitout company of choice. Get started by dropping us a line here or giving us a call on 0121 728 9977.

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