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.
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