The best and worst things about working in an open plan office – and what are the alternatives?

Two work colleagues chatting in an open plan office environment
Two work colleagues chatting in an open plan office environment

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been working in an open plan office. I don’t mind it most of the time, but there are days when things like noise levels bother me to the point where concentration is a little harder than usual.

Of course, it’s nothing a good pair of earphones and some soothing music can’t fix, but I am aware that every company operates differently and in some cases, something as minor as blocking off sound could be frowned upon and seen as anti-social.

The thing about open plan working environments is that it has both its fair points and drawbacks – admittedly, doing a search on Google reveals a plethora of articles that are mostly keen for it to die – but when you think about it, it all depends on how you make it work.

The good

The biggest pro for working in an open plan office is that it obviously allows for more interactivity and engagement with your colleagues. Fostering positive and healthy relationships with your co-workers is a major cornerstone for work place happiness. 

Secondly, a group of people working well together is a key ingredient in collaborative efforts to ensure team success, according to Mark Miller, Global CEO of Volaris Group and Trapeze Group.

Open environments are a good way to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening and enables a culture of instant feedback amongst peers. 

READ MORE:Have to do a panel interview? Here’s what you need to know

The bad

Of course the downside to working in an open plan office is the level of noise and distraction that often gets in the way of productivity. 

The chance for constant interruptions also increases because – and I think this is both a good and bad thing - open environments often create the impression that we’re available and accessible almost all of the time. 

It’s good in the sense that it allows for approachability, but terrible in that it means that when you need to be completely focused on a deadline, it’s not always possible.

WATCH: Pros and cons of working in an open plan office

So, what are the alternatives then?  

What if people changed the way offices were designed? Could it encourage more productivity while still providing an environment that’s accessible to everyone?

James de Villiers from Business Insider SA reports that there are a good number of ways to make working in an open plan office a more productive endeavour.  

A couple of things you could do include the following and the one thing your company could consider:

Come in early so that you can get an hour or two’s worth of work done without distraction

Incorporating a headset rule – according to the Business Insider, this essentially means that the moment you put your headphones on, you’re incorporating a “do not disturb” policy.

If there are quiet meeting rooms that aren’t occupied and you’re mobile – book the room and work there for a while, especially if you need to get something urgent done.

READ MORE: You need to stop being so loyal to your job – here’s why

Change up the design of your working space without necessarily sacrificing the accessibility of the open plan office:

The infographic below is the perfect example of different types of ways in which office designs can and should be changed up:


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