Office Layout Design: Choosing to Keep the Doors or Going for Wide Open Spaces

iStock_000006663074MediumWhile collaboration is a cornerstone of any workplace, the timeless question of whether or not go to a completely open office space still exists. While open offices have their advantages, there are some drawbacks to consider.

With the open office trend gaining steam, more workers have little to no dividers between themselves and their coworkers. Should the trend to promote open offices continue or does it need to be balanced with the traditional closed office?

Advantages of an Open Office

From the employer perspective, open offices provide the ability to place employees in teams based on skill-sets. For example, a team of four or six workers can group their desks together into teams comprised of a computer coder and creative types, such as graphic designers and copywriters. Along with having workers within earshot of each other, employers are also able to monitor their employees’ Internet use, productivity and work habits.


While workers have individual work styles, open offices commonly present employees with focus problems. They often complain about the lack of solitude, which can make them less productive compared to those who enjoy cubicles or offices. Another potential drawback pertains to generational preferences, which can further hinder productivity. Baby boomers may favor closed office setups, whereas millennials tend to prefer the open office layout.

Strategies to Make an Open Office Work

One way to determine if an open office is right for workers is to screen new hires to see if they have an aptitude for an open office. Using a multistep approach, interviewers can start off by interviewing a large group of candidates, pairing them and assigning a logic puzzle to solve to see how they work together. Observing how well they communicate and work on a problem together can be the first step to determining aptitude for open offices.

Some companies pay select candidates to work with their existing employees for a day or even a multi-week trial before hiring to gauge how well they work in an open space environment.

Open Office Workplace Compromises

However, this doesn’t mean current and new hires should be disregarded simply because they are less productive in an open work space. For skilled workers competent in their respective field but not well suited for open offices, there are alternative accommodations. Options include providing noise-cancellation/music headphones, portable desks with privacy walls, or partially enclosing corners of the office building to enable workers to focus on special projects.

While open offices offer the potential for increased collaboration and leverage the synergy of a group work, the pendulum from closed offices may have swung too far in the other direction. An individual business can work to discover an ideal combination of open and closed office spaces through trial and error.