September 30, 2016

Should Your Small Business Have an Open Floor Plan Office?


open floor plan

Would an open floor plan office work for your small business?

Those are offices where everyone sits in one big room — or even at one long table — have been popular for years at technology companies (check out these photos The Washington Post recently shared of Facebook’s new headquarters), and even many “traditional” companies have converted to this design.

An open floor plan office offers many benefits, including ease of communication, greater collaboration, a sense of equality with bosses out on the floor and, for small business owners, lower costs, since you don’t have to purchase cubicles. Many companies find open spaces lessen email overload, since people can just talk to each other instead of emailing. This also strengthens bonds between co-workers.

However, an open floor plan office definitely won’t work for every business. On the downside, they can cause distractions, lower productivity and lead to employee conflicts.

Here are some factors to consider before making a decision about an open floor plan office.

How Big is Your Business?

The larger the open space is, the more chaotic and noisy it will be. If your business is very small, however, an open space could make a lot of sense.

What Type of Work Do Your Employees Do?

For tasks that require constant collaboration, open space floor plans are a natural. On the other hand, if employees need to hold private conversations, such as salespeople who want to talk to their clients without a lot of background noise — it won’t work so well.

What Are the Ages and Personalities of Your Employees?

It’s not a given, but in general, younger and entry-level employees tend to be more comfortable with open-space office plans. If your employees are older and came up in the workforce during an era when “getting an office with a door” signified status, they may feel downgraded by the switch to an open plan. As a small business owner, you also know about any personality quirks your employees may have that could make open plan arrangements difficult.

Are There Any Special Needs Your Employees Have?

Everyone has a different tolerance for stimulus. The older we get, the less able we are to tolerate multiple sensory inputs. (This explains why teenagers can easily do their homework while listening to music, texting and watching YouTube at the same time.) Employees on the autism spectrum will also suffer from the noise and distractions of an open plan. Finally, make sure to take employees with physical handicaps into consideration when designing an open plan, as they may need special accommodations.

Privacy

You’ll still need some areas where employees and managers can meet in private to discuss things like employee reviews or disciplinary actions. You may also need to meet with clients in an enclosed space. Make sure any floor plan you choose has enough private space to handle an average day’s needs.

Alternatives to Consider

Use open-space floor plans for certain departments. For example, highly collaborative groups may benefit from open-plan space, whereas workers whose tasks require intense concentration may suffer.

Use several open-space areas. If one big open space environment would get too noisy, how about several smaller open space areas?

Still not sure? Try a test run. It will cost a bit more, but you could rent a shared office or co-working environment with an open plan for a few months to see how well it works. Move your whole team in, or use one group of employees as guinea pigs.

Do you know any small business owners who use an open floor plan office? How has it worked for them?

Open Floor Plan Rendering via Shutterstock

7 Comments ▼
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Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

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7 Reactions

  1. An open plan office is perfect for a small business. Communication is more seamless, training is easier for new recruits as people learn quickly working near/alongside colleagues – providing that a small quiet space is available when required.

  2. I hate the idea of an open floor plan. I want privacy to work and get my stuff done. Have some open spaces or conference rooms where people can get together and collaborate.

  3. Aira Bongco

    I think that it depends on the nature of work as well as the personality of the employees. Some employees like to have their own privacy. They hate getting distracted while others find that an open setting allows them to have more space – making the location more conducive to productive work.

  4. First of all, I like the idea of an open floor plan office work. Most of the modern offices today applies this kind of set up which is simply tailored for ideal collaboration. Thumbs up for this!

    Nice article Rieva! Keep them coming!

    Cheers,
    Tom

  5. Let’s put it this way. Managers and business owners like open floor plans. Most employees hate them. If I go to interview at a potential employer and find they have an open floor plan I move on to the next offer. I’m sure it can work good in a very small company or family small business with just a couple employees. I also think it can work in small groups. The open floor plan is also bad for people that have trouble hearing, adhd or other issues.

  6. Open floor plans are the death of productivity. Managers love them because they can see that their employees are at their desk and working, but typically upper management still have offices (making it the haves and have nots). I agree with the poster above that if I had two job offers – one from an open floor plan office and one where each person had their own personal space cubicle, I’d take the cubicle option every time.

  7. The company I am employed with recently redesigned the offices and moved from cubes to an open floor plan, moving many different departments into the same large space. All managers continued in private enclosed offices with doors. The noise and distractions are constant, as someone who has a job which requires concentration, it is like moving from purgatory into the bowels of hell.

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