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Open Office Environments – Good or Bad?

Open Office Environments – Good or Bad?

collaborationThe debate is on, and continues as proponents on both sides of this aisle continue to tout their reasons and for why or why not an open/collaborative office environment is the best solution for today’s working world.

Although the debate continues, according to IFMA (International Facilities Management Association) 70% of us already go to work to an open collaboration work environment.

Two main issues typically rise to the top as primary reasons for changing the work place to an open office collaboration environment and a 3rd that shouldn’t have relevance but seems to come up anyway.

  1. Money – decreased space needed for more people, less cost for tenant improvements, lower cost of furniture required.
  2. Increase staff communication which increases productivity.
  3. Trendy – Google, Facebook, Yahoo, EBay, American Express and Goldman Sachs all changed to this environment and they are successful companies, therefore it should work for us. (Illogical thinking, but a top reason companies make the change.)

If you haven’t defined your work culture in a way in which an open plan will work then none of the reasons above will make a difference in whether or not this environment works for your company.

Many articles and studies have been written and conducted to evaluate this trend which began about 20 years ago due to some initial research regarding open office environments fostering community and creativity leading to more productivity. Now that we have 70% of our work environments in this structure many are rethinking this mindset. Some due to the evidence of the research showing a negative impact on productivity or that the cost savings in space hasn’t achieved the results anticipated due to the result of less productivity than expected. I belief most are just seeing the physical results of whether this environment worked or didn’t work for their company.

One of the best articles I found which I believe really hit the nail on the head was written by Marcel Schwantes in the March 9th issue of Inc. magazine of this year. The section of his article “Context, Context, Context” addresses why these environments work or don’t. Another great article in the Huffington Post from February of 2015 shares a similar conclusion due to research by environmental psychologists. Here are the last two paragraphs:

“Companies thinking about how to structure their offices should research what best fits their employees’ needs, rather than simply follow the latest trend, said Veitch, the environmental psychologist.

“Workspace should be designed as carefully as you would design the cockpit of the Dreamliner,” she said. “If you don’t give your employees the right environment, they won’t be able to do what you’re paying them to do.”

Even here at Reliant we see the impact that an Open Environment has on our ability to perform. I personally do better with less distraction and therefore when I need to be focused on accomplishing certain task, I will work mobile where I can control my environment and reduce distraction. At the same time, there is tremendous value to my team and myself at being in the middle of what is happening to be able to support and collaborate on various issue which impact both our internal operations as well as discussions about customer needs and our response to them.

Therefore, understanding these issues is where we focus our discussions with our customers when given the opportunity to help design and plan their office environments. With years of experience in the industry and working with these changing environments, our furniture manager and design team help make sure our customers are not only buying the right product, but creating and environment with that product which matches the culture our customer needs to be successful and productive in their new spaces.

Feel free to call us to discuss your needs for your work environment – Furniture Manager and Specialist – Alonzo Cole, or myself Jeff Suth.


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Reliant Group, Inc