By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
SpaceIQ

The open-office trend has been a subject of controversy for as long as corporate workplaces have existed. Open-office iterations have come and gone throughout history, each one dismissed for some reason or another. The struggle has always been the same: difficulty in balancing worker productivity and performance with space utilization and cost.

This balancing act continues today with the newest version of the open office. The difference is today’s open-concept floor plans come backed by extensive data that quantifies effectiveness through many lenses. Analytics are pushing more companies to reassess their stance on open offices and ask the question: “Should my company join the open-office trend?”

Open office origins

Open-office spaces date back to the early 20th century with a concept called Taylorism. Conceived with optimal space efficiency in mind, these open offices had people elbow-to-elbow, noses to the grindstone for 10 hours a day. The emphasis was on efficiency, with little thought to how it might affect employee happiness, morale, and company culture. Needless to say, Taylorism didn’t last. But the open office didn’t die there.

The next open-office trend was Burolandschaft, which debuted in the 1960s. It introduced everything Taylorism was missing—social interaction, democratic layout, and room to breathe. Burolandschaft loosely translates from German to “office landscape.” It introduced the concept of “space design” as opposed to space maximization. This trend became the “action office” in the 1970s, which was characterized by alternative workspaces and partitions for privacy in the otherwise open-concept plan.

In the 1980s and 1990s, cubicle farms ruled the office landscape. Most tenured employees in the workforce today remember cubicles and the reasons they’ve fallen out of fashion. Cubicles embody all the negative traits of an open-concept floor plan—noise, lack of privacy, and dull monotony—while maximizing square footage. Great for space utilization; bad for morale.

What is an open office today?

As cubicles fall by the wayside, the modern open-office layout looks much different—almost a tribute to Burolandschaft. It offers clear lines of sight and few obstructions between workspaces, which are diverse and varied. Today’s open office is, in a word, agile.

Open offices today give employees the type of on-demand spaces they need to be productive. Working alone? There’s a hot desk for you. Need a quick meeting? Breakout spaces can accommodate your team. Getting a big group together? Reserve a conference room. Need some privacy? Find a quiet workspace. The modern open office answers the call for productivity—no matter what form it takes.

Industries that have embraced the open office

Want to switch to an open-office concept, but still aren’t sure if it’s right for you? It’s smart to consider the industry you’re in and the track record of similar companies.

  • Tech companies prominently embrace the open-office concept, led by global brands like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. The fast-paced nature behind tech startups and growth-hacking companies demands fluid, collaborative environments.
  • Food and beverage companies thrive in open-office spaces. Whole Foods, Bacardi, and Coca-Cola are just some of the big brands that’ve made the shift to open concepts and reaped the benefits of collaborative workplaces.
  • Advertising and marketing companies need open-office concepts to maintain collaboration between various production teams. Voyage Group, WPP, and Ogilvy all inspire teamwork in offices that are fluid and creative-evoking.

Media, publishing, architecture, consulting, and countless other industries have experienced success with open-concept offices. The reason? The free-flowing, laid-back nature of these spaces is conducive to collaboration, creativity, and productive communication—all traits of successful companies.

Open office pros and cons

The pros and cons of open offices are constantly debated. Like any office space layout, there are arguments for both sides. The best way to evaluate the efficacy of the open-office trend is to stack up the pros and cons against each company’s unique culture, workforce, and work habits. Here’s a quick rundown:

Pros

  • Better communication
  • Cost-effective space utilization
  • Space flexibility and agility
  • Fewer barriers to collaboration
  • Fast-paced workplace feel

Cons

  • More distractions and noise
  • General lack of privacy
  • Prone to friction if mismanaged
  • Common hygiene and illness concerns
  • Potential for low space utilization

Should you join the trend?

Companies today need to look at their workplace and ask if it’s optimized for efficiency. Is your workforce operating at peak productivity? Is the cost of your lease adequately offset by the revenue generation of your workforce? Is space utilization at an appropriate level across all areas of the workplace? These questions and more need quantifiable answers. Thankfully, we have the modern tools to gather and assess data to support or refute them.

Whether or not your company should transition to an open-concept floor plan depends on your unique situation. Whatever choice you make, make it confidently knowing you’ve got decades of examples to measure up against.

Keep reading: The Cubicle vs The Open Office