How to Design an Open Office Space (Where Everyone Can Actually Get Work Done)

Posted on August 24, 2017

Open-floor office plans get so much flack on the web, you’d think they were invented by millennials. Blamed for destroying workplace privacy, productivity, and relationships, we may be tempted to believe that the open office is the beginning of the end of comfortable working conditions.

But offices with open floor plans aren’t anything new: they have a long history dating back to the 1950s in Germany and are used in offices all around the world. And with current trends in the real estate and job markets, this tried and true design scheme isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For many companies, an open office plan is pretty much the only design that is both economically and spatially sensible. Plus, it’s hard to imagine fostering an open and collaborative company culture in any other kind of space.

And besides, nobody is trying to bring the cubicle back.  

Like any design, an open floor plan can be well or poorly executed. With careful planning, an open office does not need to feel like a modern sweatshop. But how does one preserve a feeling of collaboration and accessibility while still diminishing distraction? Here are our suggestions for designing an open floor office that maximizes the good and minimizes the bad:

Provide lots of nooks, crannies, and corners

It may not be possible for everyone to have their own office, but there should be several places where employees can retreat to when they need to get some quiet thinking done. Such a space doesn’t need to be completely cut off from all the action – the trick is just that it needs to provide the feeling of being its own distinct space. After all, there is a reason why many of us gravitate to the coziest corner of a coffee shop. We get to enjoy both a sense of privacy without being completely isolated.

Because it remains open on one or more sides, a working nook is at once approachable and private. Crannies can be permanently installed, but they can also be created using moveable furniture.

Create spaces that are distinct but not separate

One advantage that can appeal to even the biggest skeptics of open floor plans is the ability to move your workstation around the office when you need a change of scenery. Creating several distinct work areas can help keep employees from feeling chained to a single desk area. It can also make it easy to practice hot-desking, which can help boost employee engagement.

But you don’t need to build out an entire, separate room in order to create the feel of one. Murals placed in strategic places can delineate space while preserving the open air feeling of an open floor plan. What’s more, there’s no need for a mural to be as high as the ceiling or enclosed by other walls. When offset at a different depth from the exterior walls of your office space, unique wall murals can offer both visual interest and atmospheric distinction.

Glass-paneled meeting rooms

If workplace transparency is an important value in your company, glass paneled meeting rooms can help your space embody this. Of course, not every meeting should be held town-hall format, so meeting rooms are a crucial feature in every office. But glass paneled rooms can  help encourage community. The ability to see that there is work being done, from both sides of the panels, is a visual reminder to be considerate of coworkers. In contrast, when people feel completely alone in a room they can’t see out of, they may make more noise than they otherwise would.

Beyond the community-centered advantages of glass meeting rooms, there are several practical advantages as well. Glass allows for natural light to flow through, which is good for your company energy bill as well as employee morale. Glass can also be decorated, through frosting or etched window decals, to contribute to branding or the office design scheme.

Bleacher-style lounge areas

When making creative use of limited space, it may help to think like urban planners in big cities: when horizontal space is limited, build up instead of out. Bleacher-style or stair-stepped lounge areas are a unique and innovative way to fit more people in less cubic space without crowding. Because employees can sit spaced out on different levels, this sort of lounge area creates the feeling of having a comfortable distance from others. It also allows for smaller groups of employees to congregate together without having to pull up enough chairs. And if you regularly hold presentations or town-hall meetings in your office, stair-stepped seating will absolutely come in handy.

About the Author

Joe Robison is the Marketing Director of Coastal Creative, a San Diego-based printing company where he and his team work on branded interiors and large format printing projects of all kinds. You can read his thoughts about SEO and Digital Marketing on his blog.