Last edited 11 Jan 2019

Open plan offices

Open plan office.jpg

An office is a building, portion of a building, or a room, that is used for desk-based business purposes. Approved Document B defines an office as ‘premises used for the purpose of administration, clerical work, handling money, and communications’, and so on.

Offices may contain some or all of the following generic types of work space:

  • Open plan: A floor space that isn’t enclosed, typically made up of rows of desks for use by a large number of people.
  • Team space: A semi-enclosed work space for groups of people.
  • Cubicle: Semi-enclosed work space for use by one person.
  • Private office: An enclosed work space for use by one person.
  • Shared office: An enclosed work space for use by two or more people.
  • Study booth: An enclosed work space for use by one person for a short period, i.e. for making a phone call or holding a video meeting.

Open plan offices are seen as less hierarchical, and can offer the greatest flexibility and space efficiency. They can also create an ‘open’, creative, collaborative and communicative environment where occupants work together rather than being separated by walls and closed doors.

However, they can be noisy and distracting, cramped and provide little privacy or security.

There may be functions that it is not appropriate to carry out in open plan offices, such as meetings, personal or sensitive conversations, loud or potentially distracting activities such as presentations and so on.

A study by Harvard researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban published in 2018 actually suggested that open plan spaces stifle collaboration, reducing the number of face-to-face interactions and increasing the use of phones and email. The authors suggested that "Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates”. Ref https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2017.0239

A University of Arizona study published in 2018 suggested that workers in open-plan offices are 'more active', with 32% more physical activity than workers in private offices and 20% more than those in cubicles. https://oem.bmj.com/content/75/10/689

Movable partitions can allow multiple activities to happen in close proximity to one another, accommodating different settings that support different activities. The next generation work-space has flexibility and adaptability, but where workers can manipulate their surrounding and express their creativity.

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