26th Jan 2022

Open Plan Offices… Are They Truly Functional?

Posted in:

Open plan offices, you’ve been hearing about them for years, you’ve probably worked in one before, you might even be sat in one right now.

These offices are everywhere you look, and it doesn’t look like they’re going away any time soon. But why do so many companies turn to open plan layouts? Are there any disadvantages? And are they truly functional? Read on to find out!

Once upon a time, you would be hard-pressed to find an office that wasn’t packed wall to wall with dull, dark cubicles, and a handful of private corner offices for management.  Employees came to work to sit at their desks and bash away at keyboards for 8-or-so hours, before picking up their bags, clocking off and heading out the door. No collaboration, no conversation (aside from the occasional brief ‘water-cooler’ chat), and perhaps more importantly, no distractions.

But somewhere in the late 20th century, perceptions began to change. Communication and teamwork were on the rise, and with this came a new way of working, cubicle walls were torn down and replaced with large, open rooms. Collaboration was encouraged, and eventually, hybrid and flexible work styles began to take over. More recently, companies began to shift into being ‘workplace communities’, embracing the culture and the wellbeing of their employees.

Advantages of the Open Plan Office

Better Communication

It goes without saying, but when you break down walls and barriers, people are more likely to talk to each other. This doesn’t just mean idle chit-chat, but also free flowing ideas, intra-department support, and culture sharing. All of which can help to strengthen a company and foster new ideas and ways of working.

Quick tip: This does also mean there’s a chance for overcommunication. An easy way to combat this is by providing adjacent spaces with more acoustic and visual privacy, where people can move away and focus on a task at hand.

Happier Employees

When office interactions are increased, people are more likely to form interpersonal relationships with those around them. And when people enjoy working with their colleagues, they’ll enjoy coming to work! A quick catch up with a colleague can reduce stress, increase happiness and in some cases, be a great trouble-shooting session. All of these will help to increase staff happiness, and therefore reduce staff turnover.

Encourage Corporate Culture

In many open plan workspaces, there is no such thing as an Executive Office. Instead, management sit alongside their colleagues, breaking down hierarchies and increasing feelings of shared culture, equality, and unity. And in an open plan office when people can look up from their desks and see their colleagues and surroundings, it’s much easier to convey what your work culture means in practice.


Disadvantages of the Open Plan Office 

More Noise

As you can imagine, open plan offices have the tendency to get a little noisy every now and then. And while some people work best with a little background noise, many struggle.

Oftentimes, these employees may plug in headphones to isolate themselves from the noise around them, but this creates a sense of ‘otherness’ and may lead to them feeling left out of a larger group of employees.

Quick tip: Implementing clever acoustics can help dull out background noise. Plants can be good noise blockers too. Read more in our office acoustics article.

More Distractions

In an open plan office, it is easy for us to get distracted by things happening in our periphery. Our ‘reptilian brain’ is constantly on the lookout for threats in our surroundings, and we may feel on-edge with people constantly passing by and behind us.

Quick tip: Offering flexible workspaces such as booths or other spaces away from groups of desks gives people places to go if they’re struggling to focus on a task.


Are Open Plan Offices Functional?

If there’s one thing we champion here at Blueprint Interiors, it is that workspaces should be designed around the needs of their people first.

Therefore, whether or not an open-plan layout will work for your company is entirely down to the wants and needs of your employees.

However, if you are looking to design a workplace that is truly inclusive of all current and potential employees, a flexible, hybrid workspace is the way to go.

Hybrid workplaces encourage employees to work however they work best. By providing an array of workstations, including open plan areas, collaboration zones and private pods/cubicles, you can ensure that all your employees are able to work in an environment that benefits them.

And what’s best for your people is always what’s best for your company.


Chloe Sproston

Creative Director