The business community is all abuzz with the open-plan office concept. Tech giants like Facebook have bought into the idea with their 2,800-people-strong Frank Gehry-designed open office in Menlo Park, California—the largest open office in the world yet. If billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is doing it, it’s worth taking at least a second look. So really, is the open-office layout really so great?
People Are Everywhere
Without a maze of walls and dividers to navigate through, collaboration happens easily. Not only is it easier to look for the person you need (because you see everyone), it is also psychologically simpler to approach a person without a physical barrier. An engineering director at Facebook, Gregg Stefancik, defends the arrangement, saying management is “trying to make work as frictionless as possible.” When everyone becomes a familiar face, friendships happen more naturally, inspiring trust, teamwork, and an efficient flow of ideas and information.
The Flip Side: In an open-office layout, everyone can hear and see everything that is going on in the area, which could be madly distracting to someone who really needs to concentrate. So as easy it is to make friends in this setup, it also isn’t that hard to make enemies. You can’t expect to have any privacy in an open office, so the best you can do is to put on some earphones and kick up the volume. And the common cold? It travels faster when there are no dividers too.
An open-office plan is an economically clever solution. When there are no walls to construct and no cubicles to assemble, it would naturally amount to less construction costs. Electricity cost is another thing that is reduced, thanks to an improved flow of air and light. As for office equipment, it’s convenient to share in an open office. All of this translates to lower overhead expenses.
The Flip Side: Noise and distractions could lead to a slowdown in productivity. Sick leaves may also be more common because of the easy spreading of viruses. Project and client confidentiality could also be at risk when you discuss in an open-office setting.
While some would complain about the lack privacy in open-office spaces, others would cheer at the prospect of always having people around. Company culture will dictate if an open-office environment is best. Look at your team and then decide if it will work for you.