Characteristics of the Open Plan Office

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Open plan offices, most noted for their open spaces, have been around since the industrial revolution. Partitions and furniture groupings gained popularity around the 1950s. Architects and designers conceived open spaces as places where ideas would flow and social barriers lifted. Modern style plans offer individual cubicles and meeting areas for group gatherings.

Limited Closed Spaces

Conference rooms are enclosed to provide good audio quality for presentations, or to host interviews. They often have thick carpet and full glass walls and doors. Private offices typically have wood doors and partial glass walls. Fully enclosed offices with opaque walls and doors are usually reserved for the most upper management.

Lack of Privacy

Without doors or ceilings some workers feel they have no privacy. Informal workplace etiquette may get established to keep prying eyes off your cubicle, or keep nerds from standing on their chairs to check out what’s going on around them. In general, make private calls or do personal business elsewhere if you don’t want to be overheard.

Acoustical Materials

False drop type ceilings are common with metal frameworks holding squares of acoustical ceiling planks. They are often white to reflect light and soundproof to absorb sound.

Cubicles

Cubicles are the operative workspace in open plan office environments. Walls are typically made of metal frames covered with thick fabric upholstery and insulated with foam. Cubicles are usually about six feet tall, provide the boundary of individual or shared offices and have no ceilings or doors, although doorways are present.

Cheaper construction

Construction for open styles can save companies up to 20 per cent of their building costs. Open plans don’t require additional internal framing for walls.

Noisy

High decibel noise levels characterize open plan offices. Even with interventions like acoustical ceilings and upholstered walls, noise vibrations will travel unthwarted throughout this type of office structure. Telephones ring, colleagues yell over tops of cubicles for answers to questions. Even when workers are just talking at normal volume levels, the sheer number of people doing it simultaneously can mean lots of noise in the air.

Fostering Teamwork

Open plan styles can foster teamwork because everyone is so accessible. Many open work spaces have areas with large whiteboards, grouped seating, or large work tables. These areas were designed to promote development of ideas and for group problem solving. Spaces away from worker desks give employees an opportunity to share and discuss what they’ve been working on individually.

Negative Health Consequences

According to Dr. Vinesh Oommen of Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, an overwhelming majority of workers in open plan offices had high blood pressure and high levels of stress. He also concluded that open plans could increase the risk of airborne illnesses such as influenza.

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