There has been a lot of debate in recent years over open offices and closed offices, and which office type is better.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has added urgency to some of these conversations, leading office workers and companies alike to ask basic questions about workplace safety — and what kinds of offices will best support the demand for safe, collaborative spaces needed after COVID-19.
In truth, each workspace has its benefits and most savvy businesses take a hybrid approach, mixing open plan workspaces with private spaces. That’s because research shows people want a variety of ways to work throughout their workday.
But figuring out what mix of open and closed workspaces works best for your business means knowing the key differences between the two office designs.
Below, we’ve highlighted the pros and cons of each layout and how to find the best office solution for your business.
This guide includes:
At the most basic level, the key difference between open and closed offices is rooted in their layout and design. Where open offices favor open plan designs free of barriers, closed offices leverage barriers and partitions to offer individuals and team private spaces to work.
Here’s a breakdown of what each office layout looks in practice:
Open offices are intended to remove barriers that divide workers. Defined by their lack of partitions of any kind, you won’t find walls, cubicles or other divisions between workspaces.
In many open-plan layouts, employees work side-by-side at long worktables with individual computers spaced at intervals. Open plan spaces also tend to feature common lounge areas for collaborative get-togethers.
Ethan Bernstein, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, says that open spaces are typically chosen when companies “want more open, more collaborative, more interactive spaces that are also less expensive.”
Closed offices place a much larger emphasis on privacy via partitioned individual workspaces. These can take the form of cubicles, private offices and clustered team workspaces.
Closed office layouts often strategically combine cordoned off space, private offices, cloistered lounge areas and private phone rooms to provide workers with private space that minimizes noise and distractions.
A Key Takeaway: It’s Rarely One or The Other
Very few workspaces are entirely open or entirely closed. Often, companies will invest in hybrid workspaces that blend open and closed areas across an office floor plate.
The reason is simple: Open office floor plans are well suited for open communication and involved teamwork, while closed office layouts are well suited for individual work.
At Hana, our workspaces are prime example of this hybrid approach. We offer a mix of open spaces and private offices, individual focus rooms and quiet nooks, allowing our members choose their environment based on the work they’re doing.
Make no mistake: Each office layout has unique advantages — and unique disadvantages. Below, you’ll find the pros and cons of each office layout broken down and contrasted with one another.
The Key Takeaway
Both layouts have their benefits and drawbacks. While open offices are prized for improving collaboration, communication and random interactions, they can also end up being noisy and distracting, if not properly designed.
And while closed offices enjoy greater privacy, there are more barriers to interaction. It’s easy for individuals and teams to become isolated and more difficult for managers to keep an eye on their employees.
Choosing the best office layout for you really depends on the type of work your business does and how your teams — and employees — function best.
Remember: You don’t have to choose between an open and closed office. You have to figure out what the best mix of the two will be for your teams and employees.
One way to determine the best office solution is to ask yourself these three simple questions:
By answering these questions, you can better understand what type of physical space will help your team feel productive.
If your business is a large organization with privacy needs such as a financial services company, or you find yourself doing a lot of individual and focused work, a closed office setup is likely a better fit.
If you have a need for more regular communication and don’t need barriers to feel secure, an open layout can keep you in easier touch with your colleagues.
For many workers, however, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Most businesses and workspace designers are now blending open and closed workspaces to offer their employees the ability to choose where they work in a given day.
For some businesses, this means incorporating closed-office elements into open-office layouts to give workers private spaces for focused work while retaining open spaces for more collaborative work.
The Key Takeaway
Determining what tasks you do on a daily basis and how you work best is an easy way to figure out which office solution is optimal for you. And while semi-open workspaces that blend the best of open and closed offices are becoming more popular, they aren’t yet widespread.
Among the many facets of our lives COVID-19 has impacted over the course of 2020, it’s had an immediate impact on how we think about the office — and what offices we’ll want to work in after the coronavirus pandemic.
Even as some headlines have touted the potential benefits for companies that forego the office entirely and adopt a remote-first approach, companies are still investing in office space. Facebook, for example, announced plans to add 730,000-plus square feet of office space in New York City.
Why? Because the office offers a number of benefits we still can’t replicate digitally. In a survey earlier this year, we found the number one thing people miss most from the office is in-person interactions, both random and planned.
Part of that stems from the fact it’s difficult to collaborate effectively online — and it’s even harder to capture the benefits of in-person conversation around the water cooler on apps such as Slack.
So, what office layouts make the most sense after COVID-19?
The answer depends on a number of factors. Where some say it can be more difficult to implement safety standards and social distancing in open offices, others point to new layouts, improved HVAC standards and enhanced cleaning measures as appropriate safety precautions.
Similar arguments abound around closed office layouts, too.
The real question is what office layout makes the most sense for your team — and you. And that involves thinking through what types of work will need to happen in the office in a post-COVID-19 world.
At Hana, we see a strong demand for workspaces that enable individual work, so employees have the optionality to use an office when they need to do focused tasks. But we also are seeing a strong demand for collaborative spaces that allow teams to safely work together on group tasks.
According to McKinsey, organizations will need to “create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely.” If, for instance, “the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work,” that organization will need to invest in workspaces that enable collaboration.
To determine what type of office space will make the most sense for your team after COVID-19, think through the types of work your organization is having difficulty carrying out remotely and think through how an office can fill that gap.
Employees after COVID-19 are expected to demand more flexibility to work remote at least part of the week, meaning the time they spend in the office will be more intentional. The mix of open and closed office spaces you invest in after COVID-19 should reflect the work your employees expect to do in the office.
Many of the differences between open and closed office designs are easy to pinpoint. Closed offices, for instance, are typically designed to give workers more privacy, while open office layouts often foster increased team communication
Completely open workspace environments can be distracting (although appropriate acoustic treatments can resolve this), but may help foster organic in-person connections. Closed workspaces are expensive but give workers quiet and privacy, boosting productivity. So, which is better?
The answer is that it depends — and frequently, it’s not a one/or but a both/and. Especially in light of COVID-19, determining what office layouts work best for your business and teams will require thinking through what work you’re most likely to do in the office after the coronavirus pandemic. And for many, it’s a mixture of collaborative work — something that’s difficult to effectively do online — and individually focused work.
At Hana, we create offices that blend open and closed workspaces, offering private retreats for focused work and collaborative spaces for team collaboration.
But what matters most is choosing the right office solution that fully supports the work your team is doing.
Looking for an office that fully supports your team — and addresses the new way of work? We’re here to help. Learn more about how a flexible workspace solution can enable your team to connect, collaborate and perform in this new world of work.
As the Content Strategist at Hana, my job involves digging deep into the present and future of flexible workspaces and coworking. When I'm not working my way through industry trends, you can find me working my way through a book or looking for the perfect taco stand in Austin, Texas.
By submitting this form, you permit CBRE Hana to store and process the personal information provided above to provide information about our products and services. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information on how we process your personal information, please review our Privacy Notice.