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Is the Open Office Plan still a thing ?


Open and modern office space
Modern open office plan

First introduced in the USA in the 60s, the "open space" concept has spread to the four corners of the globe, to the point where it has now become the standard layout in most companies.

Seen by some as an important innovation promoting collaboration and creativity, while by others as a source of constant distraction, the concept is now the subject of lively debate in the workplace.

At a time when office spaces are undergoing a profound transformation in their function, it's vital to grasp the impact these changes are having on the design and occupancy of today's and tomorrow's offices.

In this article, we'll explore the advantages and disadvantages of open office spaces, and determine whether or not open space is still a good idea for your business.



A bit of History


The beginnings


The first open-plan workspace was conceived and invented in the early 1900s by Frank Lloyd Wright, an influential 20th-century American architect famous for his work on the Guggenheim Museum and the Cascade House. He introduced the concept of the "office landscape" in the 50s and 60s, emphasizing the flexibility and mobility of office furniture to encourage greater interaction between employees.


The emergence of the first open office spaces


In 1968, Robert Propst, a famous American inventor, created the Action Office System concept, the first open office system made up of reconfigurable elements, which marked a break with the ideas of the time on what office furniture should be. The aim of this innovative concept was to match the way people actually worked.


90s and 00s


Open spaces experienced a meteoric rise in the late 90s as a result of the expansion of technology companies in the USA. Google and Apple developed this concept, which quickly became a model for many other companies.

Facebook followed suit, creating the world's largest open space for 2,800 employees at its Menlo Park campus in California.


Nowadays


Long considered THE solution for efficient office space planning, open spaces are seen differently today. Companies are gradually adopting a more flexible approach, mixing open and closed spaces. This trend, which began slowly before the Covid-19 crisis, saw its adoption explode after the crisis and the introduction of flex office and hybrid working.



The benefits of open office


Flexibility & adaptability


The main advantage of open space is the great flexibility it gives companies. The absence of walls means that a space can be adapted to changing business needs without the need for major renovation.


Space optimization


Open-plan offices enable companies to increase their surface area at lower cost, and thus optimize the use of space on the same work surface.


Better communication & collaboration


In theory, the absence of physical barriers between employees is supposed to encourage spontaneous communication and collaboration. In reality, however, this is not necessarily the case. The number of e-mails or direct messages between colleagues on the same work floor, for example, has risen sharply in recent years.



The downsides of open office


Lack of privacy


The main drawback of this concept comes from its very nature: the total and maximum openness of the spaces. This openness is detrimental to the privacy of the teams, who may at times need to conduct confidential conversations away from eavesdroppers.


Permanent distractions


Ambient noise, conversation and constant movement can make it difficult to concentrate on complex tasks. Some employees may prefer a quieter working environment.


Stress & fatigue


The lack of privacy, constant noise and proximity to colleagues can generate a significant amount of stress for some people. What's more, these open spaces can make you feel like you're constantly being watched by your superiors.



Activity-based work


In response to the evolution of workspaces and new corporate needs, other alternative concepts have emerged in the management of office layouts. Among these concepts, Activity Based Working (ABW) offers the best compromise between social interaction and concentration.


"In an activity frame-based environment, several frames are provided with different technical and physical attributes assembled to support the variety of performance "modes" taking place in a work environment. These may be small, enclosed, dedicated and acoustically private spaces, or large, open areas shared by the team." (CBRE, 2023)


In practical terms, ABW is based on the idea that each employee has different needs, depending on the tasks he or she has to perform throughout the day. Unlike traditional workspaces based on fixed workstations, the ABW creates a flexible work environment adapted to the different tasks performed by employees. A concept that makes up for the shortcomings of the open space, while retaining its advantages of flexibility and adaptability.

 

At the end of the day, the effectiveness of open-plan offices depends largely on the corporate culture, the nature of the tasks performed and the individual preferences of employees. The concept of activity-based working offers an interesting solution that integrates the diversity of professional needs. Rather than seeing the open space as a one-size-fits-all solution, it is essential to explore flexible approaches such as ABW to create a balanced work environment, simultaneously promoting collaboration and individual well-being, all the while involving teams directly in the decision-making process.

In conclusion, we can say that open space remains a relevant concept, but only if it is implemented thoughtfully and adapted to the reality of each company, bearing in mind that other ways of thinking about offices do exist.


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