What Comes After the Open Office Plan?
If the open office plan dies out, what will replace it?
It’s no secret that the open office plan is on its way out. Initial conceived as a bastion of humanity in a dry, corporate world, this new form of office layout taught workers one simple fact: sometimes, privacy is kind of nice.
But do we really want to return to cubicles? If modern startup offices and coworking spaces are any indication, the answer is no. The current workforce still resists the gray carpet and walled desks of the old world, but no one wants to work while surrounded by distractions, either. Can we have our cake and eat it too?
We can, in a sense. The latest trend in the movement against open offices is actually a hybrid between open and private. These layouts are sometimes called flexible office plans, and their core idea is that choice is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Flexible offices might sound like a mediocre middle ground, but in fact, they offer the best of both worlds. Instead of forcing employees into an environment that’s kind of collaborative and kind of private, they establish zones that are wholly collaborative and zones that are wholly private. Think of it as a large university library that’s designed to accommodate students, professors, guests, and everyone in between.
Flexible offices usually have a large, default work area that works like a typical open office. However, they also offer private, individual desks in quiet areas, similar to single-seat desks in a library. These offices also feature a variety of private rooms that can be used for meetings and brainstorming sessions. There’s a place for focused group work, a place for casual work accompanied by casual chatter, and a place for peace and quiet. Of course, there’s also a kitchen and a lounge area, where employees can de-stress and remove work from their minds entirely.
The issue with the one-size-fits-all approach is that work spaces are more effective when they adapt to the user’s moods. It’s not just about catering to different personality types; the same person might want to work in a different environment within the same day. If you give people the opportunity to choose where they work, they’ll automatically pick the space that makes sense given what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Neither open plans nor cubicles offer this level of freedom.
What workers really want is freedom, not collaboration. The freedom to collaborate is a driving force behind motivation and creativity. Forced collaboration, on the other hand, is a pain. At worst, open office plans stray dangerously close to the dreaded corporate team-building exercise.
There’s a catch, of course. Flexible offices are only feasible for large companies. Coworking spaces and big companies can afford to design a space that’s large enough to accommodate different zones, but startups that want a private office have no choice but to settle for a small, open layout. Having said that, many of the open layout’s problems are mitigated in a small team, and by the time your team is big enough for the issues to grow, you can invest in a bigger office.
With flexible offices on the rise, we can expect to see unique implementations of the model in the coming years. The flexible office is a broad concept, and every designer is going to put their own unique touch on it. That’s great news for the average worker, because we’re all going to reap the benefits.