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Private offices vs. open seating: Which is best for your team?

This is the question businesses are wrestling with when trying to architect the most productive office space for their employees.

For those who are skeptical about the biggest trend in office layouts, open seating, this Washington Post article: Google Got it Wrong: The Open Office Space is Destroying the Workplace pretty much sums up everything that staffers hate about the style. Lack of privacy and ease of distraction are at the top of the complaint list. Lack of permanency also ranks high as some employees prefer a space that they can make their own. For fans of the old-school way of working—private office space is non-negotiable.

However, many companies favor open seating because it fosters collaboration and improves workflow, which can drive productivity and agile thinking. Open seating is perfect for organizations that flock towards office sharing solutions like coworking which thrive on the ready interaction between companies. This model also works great for staffers who don’t mind a bit of movement from one desk to another from time to time. Conference rooms double as meeting spaces, war rooms, and islands for deep thought.

Both private and open office space have their pros and cons. Ultimately, your workspace should contribute to the growth and productivity of your business—no matter what form that office takes.

If you’re struggling to decide which floor plan works best for you, here are some factors to help you decide.

Are you growing?

As your company grows in size, consider the implications of more people and more space. How much space will you need to accommodate your team? What kind of resources will you need? (furniture, technology, amenities, etc). What level of privacy and confidentiality will your employees need given their roles?

Open floor plans allow you to maximize your space in many different ways. Some companies use movable furniture and unassigned seats. Others use benching, whereas all the walls and panels come down between employees leaving wide open collaborative spaces. Both options result in a simple layout that can accommodate more employees in a single location and promote the use of shared equipment like copiers, printers, and supplies in a much more efficient manner.

However, privacy has it’s benefits. Privacy could be critical in the early stages of your business and become even more necessary as your business expands and gets more complex. Human resources, legal, accounts payable are just some examples of where privacy and confidentiality are central to their roles. Moreover, private office space allows your growing team to establish its own identity and culture, particularly if you are operating out of a coworking space.

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PivotDesk host company, JGArchitects provides an excellent balance of private and open space for the team that needs flexibility.

Do you want to focus on worker productivity?

Open seating is great for many types of employees like sales and marketing where ease of collaboration can be the key to success. Even top level executives are tearing down their walls and abandoning the once coveted corner office to commune with their employees in an open floor plan. Square and Bloomberg are prime examples of this growing trend. But when evaluating open seating, consider the types of jobs that won’t necessarily benefit from 24/7 interactivity. Think programmers, designers and number crunchers. The “heads down” approach may be how they do their best work and as such, require private office space. Plus, personnel meetings, executive pow-wows, and team collaboration require some alone time.

Also look at the individual worker. Are they introverts, extroverts, succumbing to distraction? A simple factor such as “noise” could impact worker productivity. Not everyone can work amongst the clatter of the keyboard, the shuffling of paper, the watercooler behind their back, and the pitter patter of grown mens’ feet. Look around. How many of your staffers are donning headphones to drown out the noise?

Take an inventory of not just your team size, but who they are and how they work best. If you want to increase productivity, a one size fits all solution may not cut it. It may take a while to get it right or you may need to focus on one department at time. Ultimately, it will take some time so you’ll want to opt for a flexible office space solution until you determine what works best for your team.

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Guests at Lawline can choose the work environment that suits them best.

Is cost a factor?

The rising cost of office space has driven companies to the open seating model since it provides a way to cost-effectively maximize square footage as you grow. With a long table and some chairs, you can fit a whole company into a loft-like space, whereas cubicles and closed doors limit your usable square footage and cost you in tenant improvements. But don’t sacrifice privacy entirely. For some businesses and roles, you simply can’t afford to.

If you select open seating, find ways to create private spaces within your open floor plan. Phone booths, conference rooms, lounge spaces, and small meeting rooms are all ways to provide these important meeting and thinking spaces. Also consider coworking or shared office space. You can choose from open or private spaces, or even a mixture of both to see what works best for your team, without being forced into a long term commitment.

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For many guests, simply having a private lounge like Bluprint has above is enough.

Making the decision

The good news is, whether you thrive in vast openness or prefer areas of seclusion, you have choices – including combining the best of both worlds. Environmental psychologist, Jennifer Veitch said in this Huffington post article, “Open offices increase communication, but not all communication is a good thing.” Therefore, there is definitely a trend towards finding the right balance. By “zoning” your offices you can create open spaces that are great for collaboration, as well as quiet spaces for when staffers need to plunge themselves into deep thought.

Bottom line – don’t let the sedentary nature of the real estate market drive your business. If you’re not sure which is going help take your business to the next level, PivotDesk until you do. We have many host companies sharing space that are open, private or both. That’s the beauty of flexible office space solutions. You have plenty of opportunities to get it right.

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