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Open Floor Plan Offices: Do They Work?

In a post-World War II, employers were looking to flatten corporate hierarchies and increase efficiency while providing for better collaboration and a more humane working environment. Conceived by Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle in Hamburg, Germany, open concept office space (office landscaping) was originally designed as more of a free form garden design before it was streamlined into rigid rows or tables by efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford.

In fact, office furniture as we know it today was designed to support office landscaping; and the panel-hung systems of furniture developed for this purposes initially sought to support the free-form landscape of the office. However, as Dilbert let us all know, this changed quite quickly into “cube farms” in very regimented rows and groups.

Open floor plans are distracting and stressful both for introverts and extroverts alike. The Gensler 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey found that the open floor office layout can actually lead to employees losing focus, becoming distracted and dropping productivity; which is the opposite of the utopian ideal of open, unhindered casual conversation and brainstorming. Instead, you’re more likely to find coworkers discussing the Kardashians from a fear of eavesdroppers and/or reprisal.

In the Applied Psychology study Helping and Quiet Hours: Interruption-free Time Spans Can Harm Performance published in July 2012, the results showed that the person who “collaborated” and received assistance performed better than the person from whom they had received the help. The study also showed that people who were subjected to lengthy periods of noise gave up quickly when attempting to problem solve difficult challenges, rather than working on them patiently to resolution.

Bright, airy and easy to collaborate

We like the idea of an 'office garden' designed space. It just seems to imply that things will be positive, happier and full of life. Who wouldn't like that? Most people already struggle, to some degree, with the traditional office cubicle set up so perhaps something that is built a little bit more organically and designed to feel unfettered would be better.

But sometimes we also think that having the structure and conformity of a 'cube farm' set up makes it easier to organize and find what you need to perform your job. Yes, it can seem a bit strict but it also means personal calls are personal too.

Which do you think you would prefer? Honestly, we think that the deliverable of an open concept office of open, casual conversation and brainstorming is going to be key moving forward in business. What do you think? Leave a comment and give us your view on this topic.

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