Nearly 70 percent of people work in open-floor plans, according to the latest International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) research. Workers, tired of cramped cubicles and dark corner desks, yearn to break free!

So, everyone’s happy now, right? Not so much: new statistics show that this workspace style leaves many employees feeling distracted, unproductive, overexposed and overwhelmed.

We spoke with three office planning experts who say there are two key questions that can help companies find balance:
⒈ What type of space does each department need to work efficiently?
⒉ What is the operational goal the company wants to achieve with the space?

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between open and closed office styles, the role of a facilities manager in office space planning and a few tools and resources you can use to assist in this process.

⒈Benefits of an Open Office Floor Plan vs Closed

Do an online search for “open office plan” and you can witness the debate firsthand. You’ll find some professionals arguing the pros of this style, while others claim that it eliminates privacy and adds audible and visual distractions.

Rico Deng, project manager for Office Space Planners, has seen the open-plan office trend grow rapidly in an attempt to boost in productivity—but also as a way to save money on real estate costs.

“We’ve seen around a 20 to 40 percent reduction in real estate costs in companies switching to open offices and reducing size of workspace,” She says.

Traditional, closed floor plans typically include private conference rooms and sometimes high-walled cubicles. Private office spaces are then arranged along exterior walls, so each has a window.

Benefits of a Closed Office Plan

Increased privacy
Limited noise and other distractions
Great for employee concentration

Open floor plans ditch the hard walls in favor of bench seating, low-walled cubicles, collaborative areas and conference spaces with glass walls.

Benefits of an Open Office Plan

Reduced real estate costs
Layout can be modified easily
Great for employee collaboration

One reason for the open-office trend is the current commercial real estate market.

“Space is harder to come by, and more companies are being forced into smaller square footage than maybe what they would ideally want,” says Bianca Tilley, interior designer at Gensler, an architecture, design, planning and consulting firm.

Jed Link, communications manager at IFMA, adds that the idea of the workspace has shifted from just a “container for things that do business” to a tool that serves its own function.

“As a result, more companies are looking toward workplace strategies,” Link says. “There is no one size fits all.”

2.Your Facilities Manager’s Role and Office Space Goals

Whether your organization is renovating an existing space or designing a new one, the facilities manager serves a major role in office space planning—from beginning to end.

“The facility manager is going to have a pretty good idea of how they run their facility currently and the issues they see,” Rico says.

“There are a lot of conversations going back and forth, understanding what [a client’s] needs are,” Tilley says. “As we go through the process, we’re constantly checking in [with the facilities manager] to make sure we’re meeting target needs.”

By completing this checklist, a facilities manager and company executives can determine a ratio of private and open spaces, as well as ancillary spaces—such as huddle rooms or conference areas—that enable the type of work required for each department.

Here’s an example of an office plan designed to meet the needs of various types of employees:

The floor plan above uses a mixture of open bench seating and collaborative space for a marketing or sales department, along with some private office areas for engineers or executives.

Additionally, Link says a company should have an overall goal they want to achieve with the new space. This goal may be to:

⒈Improve collaboration among departments by breaking down (literal) barriers.
⒉Increase productivity by giving certain employees (e.g., engineers) more private work spaces.
⒊Facilitate and encourage more remote work.

Surveying employees before creating a plan can reveal needs that will help formulate this goal, Link says. And following the move into a new space, management should perform a regular “customer satisfaction survey” of employees to see whether the space is driving that goal.

Finally, Link reminds facilities managers they aren’t alone in hashing out the details of office spaces. He recommends visiting IFMA’s Knowledge Library, which offers an online community, best practices, research and other resources.

“Facilities managers tend to operate in isolation, but that’s no longer necessary,” he says. “There are amazing resources available from a growing and vibrant community.”

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