Open plan versus closed office space

By Gayle Bryant

The type of office you work in can be a reflection of your status within a company.

When a stockbroker was filmed live on television looking at revealing pictures of model Miranda Kerr while his colleague was being interviewed, you can bet he wished he had his own private office rather than an open plan one. However, there are pros and cons of both.

The type of office you work in can be a reflection of your status within a company. The quest for the prestigious "corner office" was traditionally a way of letting the world know that you'd been successful. But times have since changed.

The case for open plan

Open plan offices can provide employees with the sense of being part of a community. For a while in the 1990s many bosses were choosing to base their desk alongside their employees, but this trend seems to have died down.

One of the main reasons companies choose the open plan option is cost: more employees can be housed in less space making it more economical. Another reason is to improve communication between staff. Rather than sending emails, it is much easier to ask questions of your colleagues face to face. The aim is to promote a more collaborative and innovative workplace.

And if you are working alongside everyone else, you remain "in the loop" - that is, you learn about what’s going on at the same time as everyone else. If you are in a closed space, important information may be kept from you.

The case for the closed office

Privacy is the key benefit of having your own closed office. If you are working on sensitive projects, this privacy may be critical as it prevents people walking behind you and seeing what you're up to. You also have more space to spread your work around, which can be advantageous if you have many files. Also you won’t have any colleagues sitting nearby, complaining about your mess.

A closed office offers fewer distractions, especially from noise. In many organisations, work stops for birthdays or other celebrations, which can be frustrating if you're trying to focus on a task.

Office of the future

The trend for workplace design within companies is more towards open plan rather than closed offices. But an emerging trend, especially among larger companies, is for hot desking - where employees don't have their own dedicated desk but work from anywhere in an office - and more flexible working styles.

But whatever the configuration, if an organisation is going to alter the workspace, it is important to incorporate a change-management plan so that the benefits of such a move are explained properly to the employees who will be affected.


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