Open Plan or Cellular-Which Works Best?

We all have different levels of requirements for both privacy and interaction or being “part of the crowd”. This applies both in private life and at work. What affects the requirement at work is both the nature of the individual and the requirements of their work. Logically, this means that putting everyone in one large office is not the answer to office planning any more than putting each individual in their own office is .

Open Plan

Open Plan office
Open plan office designs are cheaper to build, light and heat, there are no walls to block light and heat distribution, less doors and open views across the room.

More staff can be accommodated in a given area. A small amount of privacy can be given by the use of low level divisions which will also give some reduction of noise passing in to the general environment.

The opportunity for engagement with colleagues is enormous but can lead to unwanted distractions. Research by the University of California shows it can take up to 23 minutes for the mind to return to the task in hand after having concentration broken.

A large open office can be intimidating for some people and noise levels can harm concentration. Background noise can make telephone conversations more difficult and also put off clients who can hear it being picked up by ever more sensitive microphones.

The amount of to and fro movement, general noise and conversations can lead to stimulation overload, inevitably resulting in reduced productivity.

Cellular Offices

Cellular offices are more expensive to build also requiring individual ventilation and lighting.

The option of a quick reference to a colleague is lost. To have an area large enough to meet with a colleague increases the amount of total space required.

The isolation from the rest of the team can lead to a reduction in team spirit and not being “part of a gang” can be demotivating though small teams sharing an office will inevitably lose some sense of hierarchy and develop camaraderie.

The level of privacy is much greater and the quieter environment makes concentration easier. When an office is “owned” the occupant can feel it is part of their space so bringing contentment.

The Answer?

A mixture of different working areas will be the answer in most cases to allow flexible or agile working with individuals using the appropriate areas as required. The total area of officespace used would be less allowing the freeing of space for other uses, letting or just to reduce heating and lighting costs. In coming up with a satisfactory office design, it needs to accommodate the needs of the work being done, it is necessary to analyse the sort of work being carried out and its requirements, this may be:

  • Focusing and concentrating
  • Collaboration
  • Team meetings
  • Telephone use
  • Inspirational time or brainstorming
  • Relaxation
  • Eating and break areas

Flexible office working areas

By working out how much time is spent by how many staff on which activity, it is possible to work on an office design. In some cases the office manager or department manager may already have the knowledge. In cases where this is not so, a workplace study, audit or optimisation can be carried out, this might be even more necessary if new technology and working practices are being introduced.

The final design would incorporate workstation areas, quiet areas for concentration and thinking, small and large meeting areas for team and more confidential meetings, some breakout space and eating areas with kitchen facilities. Depending on the size of your company and requirements, meeting pods, telephone booths, high backed sofas and screens can all be included. Many of these elements can be mobile allowing changes in the layout to be easily carried out.

By using this system, desk “ownership” will be reduced or eliminated, mobile technology and remote log ons are already common in the modern office and the “personal communication device” is to hand for most people. One of the benefits of a touch surface device is the reduction in noise, something this author has noticed!

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