Open office plans were once thought to bring people together by breaking down the walls between them. In the 1940s, companies began to create open floor plans with desks separated by filing cabinets. It may have worked, but companies started to put too many people into the same space, which led to crowding, distractions, and a lack of efficiency.

In 1960, the cubicle was invented as a way to give employees their own space. This worked for a while until people felt boxed in and wanted more interactions. The question is, “Are open office plans the worst management fad of all time?”

What Is an Open Plan Office?

An open-plan office is one where a company uses large open spaces and relies less on small private offices for their employees. Almost all of the employees work in the same room, and they may have a few conference rooms available for private meetings. The idea is to promote a sense of community and collaboration and encourage people to work together.

There are many different designs that create open office layouts. This may include rows of desks with employees working side by side, as was the case during the early 1900s. There may be tables scattered throughout a room where more than one employee can work, and there might be desks organized in private but open spaces. All of these office designs have been tried at some point in time.

Open Plan Office History

In 1939, the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design their workspace. He carried his architecture style founded in natural forms to the design of an open plan office with columns throughout the room and skylights to bring in diffused lighting. There weren’t any partitions, and the room was filled with oval desks and filing cabinets.

This style spread, but eventually, companies began to force too many employees into one open space.  Employees found the open plan distracting and they were becoming less productive. This problem required a new solution and in 1960, office cubicles emerged. Cubicles provided private spaces within the open room where people worked. Over time, people missed the face-to-face interactions with their co-workers, and the trend shifted again.

With the rise of tech companies, the culture shifted to one of the open offices to encourage communication and collaboration. With this shift in thinking, the distractions of the past became positive interactions of the time. Today, open workspaces are common throughout many companies, but they are varied and interior design plays a role in optimizing spaces.

Why Open Offices Are Good

The open office layout can offer opportunities for human interactions and collaboration. In addition, interior design can customize the open space so that there are booths where people can make phone calls privately or meeting rooms for private meetings. People who are working at home might have an open-plan office in a section of the family room. They can feel connected to their families while getting work done.

Having office space opened up with stations for different groups and different activities can help people to feel more comfortable at work and encourages teamwork. For example, a real estate business might have an open space for agents to work together along with private rooms for conducting closings. There are many different ways to create open-plan offices that encourage teamwork and collaboration and provide private spaces for private matters.

Disadvantages of Open Plan Office

One of the biggest disadvantages of having open floors in your office is that people can become distracted easily. If the office environment is noisy and chaotic, some people may have trouble focusing on their tasks.

In addition, the more casual approach and the blurred lines between employees and leaders may create a lack of leadership. There is something to be said for respecting the boss in the corner office, and that is lost when everyone uses the same open spaces.

Some companies found that some of the open office designs actually led to people having fewer face-to-face interactions and emailing colleagues rather than speaking to them directly.

Finally, everyone is not suited to work in an open-plan office. Some people perform better in private spaces, and others may become easily distracted. If people have personality differences, the tension may spread to the rest of the open floor plan and lower morale of the entire workforce.

Open Plan Versus Closed Plan Office

An open office is one where all of the employees work in open spaces. It creates an aura of teamwork and collaboration, but it can also lead to distractions and lower productivity. On the other hand, a closed plan office is one where employees have offices where they work on their own. This can lead to greater productivity and the ability to focus, but employees may feel isolated and left out.

As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to both styles of office plan, and the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Companies today are using interior design to create workspaces that are comfortable and encourage teamwork, but still have spaces for privacy and fewer distractions.

Some companies are creating team offices, which are private offices designed for teams to work together. They share the space and have the benefits of teamwork and collaboration, but having fewer people share the office space leads to fewer distractions and higher productivity.

The reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and each company needs to find the right combination of open plan and closed plan that works best for their purposes. Some companies rely on teamwork and collaboration, but others have employees who need privacy. Some businesses might benefit from having both layouts for employees in different departments or for employees with different work styles or preferences.

Companies are experimenting with collaboration centers, lounge areas, and private team offices to find the right balance that creates efficient productivity and excellent results. The open office is a great concept, but it should be customized to best serve a business’s needs. Finding the right middle ground is the key to success in designing an office plan.