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Pros and cons of open-plan office design

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Open planIn the current economic climate it is important to optimize resources and facilities as effectively as possible, and many businesses consider switching to more cost-effective open-plan office space. Reduced cost, however, is not the only thing to consider.

The pros:

Open-plan offices offer ideal conditions for establishing friendships – assuming you like the people you share the space with.

Open-plan offices are more cost-effective, on average saving business up to 20 percent on accommodation cost. Choosing partitions wisely and working out the best possible desk layout allows companies to fit more people into the smaller space.

Buildings with open-plan office facilities are environmentally friendlier as heating and cooling becomes more efficient.

The cons:

The assumption that open-plan offices improve the communication flow is not always correct. US scientists believe that open-plan offices only minimally facilitate communications at the expense of privacy and, in some cases, loss of productivity. People tend to get less work done when they are forced to listen to their colleagues’ phone calls and conversations.

Global studies into the impact of modern office design found that elevated blood pressure, rapid staff turnover and high levels of conflict and stress were closely associated with working in an open-plan environment. Office workers in open-plan offices are more likely to come down with flu, suffer from stress and are prone to eye, nose and throat irritations.

Things to consider

1.    Workstation size and boundaries. Larger workstations with more floor area equal more privacy, better productivity and greater environmental satisfaction. Interestingly enough, employees based in very large areas tend to feel socially isolated and complain about long distances to shared resources such as photocopiers. Recommended boundaries vary but it is advisable to allow 50-100 sq ft per workstation area.

2.    Lighting.
No one will argue with the fact that having a desk within close proximity to a window makes a huge difference to a personal satisfaction. Ensure all workstations are well-lit; if ceiling lighting is not enough, compensate with desk lamps or other additional lighting. If there’s quite a bit of natural light coming into the office, ensure that light penetration is not obstructed by bulky furniture or high partitions.

3.    Acoustics. Is the office too noisy? How does the sound travel around the office? Is it getting blocked or absorbed? Investigate the acoustical performance of panels, ceilings, floors and walls, or get a specialist company to do it for you.

4.    Customization. Allow individuals to customize and personalize their working environment, whether it is providing them with adjustable chairs, desks, keyboard trays or computer monitor stands.

5.    Cleaning. Furniture, windows, light fittings and flooring must be cleaned and maintained even more regularly in an open plan office environment as the mess cannot be contained behind closed doors.

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