Why we are not in an open-plan office

Posted on 15/08/2019

We didn`t rent an open-plan office - for multiple reasons!

This Harvard Study looked into the impact of open office spaces at two Fortune 500 companies in the United States.

At first, they seem like the perfect solution - space for walls saved, better collaboration, better productivity.
Actually, the opposite is the case - the results were in fact surprising!

The employees had 70% less face-to-face communication and sent a whooping of 56% more emails. Instant Messaging went up by 67% and words sent via Instant Messaging by even 75%.
It seems like open-air spaces cause people to step a level back, into digital messaging, instead of sharing ideas and information personally.
The study also said that productivity went down, because of the substitution of emails for face-to-face interactions. It seems like direct communication is more effective than typing the same content in an email.

Also, it might be the case that people are looking for some sort of privacy when talking to each other. They don`t want, that a large audience can listen to the conversations.

Another thing is the noise. In a big open-plan, there will be always somebody who will be talking and there will be a certain noise level. How would you try to concentrate in this environment? There are a lot of distractions during the day. People might start to ask for home-office to get more things done. There are looking for limited distractions and extra-time (because there would be no travel to work needed).

Here are some more resources about the negativity of open-plan offices: (Why It's Time to Ditch Open Office Plans)

Recently I`ve read this quote from a Spotify employee: "The most valuable communication happens informally and in unpredictable ways" (source). We totally agree with that. One of the core points in our company culture is communication & collaboration. We believe that this is important for our team spirit and the success of the company. We for instance also encourage that people credit each other for the work they do (more about that topic here).

Our office is separated into many single rooms. We cater to ideally two or three people in one room, and no room is for more than five people. The office is in a central location (Sliema), and the place is solid, however, it`s not a new building. Our philosophy is that we like to invest the money in our people, rather than spend unreasonable amounts to landlords.

We also went a step further to create an ideal workplace, possibly. We recommend placing all desks on the walls. However, it`s not mandatory and every room can decide about their own preference. These are our thoughts on it:

  • people can concentrate better because there is practically nothing to look at or to get distracted from
  • more space (you can easily walk in the centre of the rooms, without stumbling over bags)
  • it looks neater (tables next to walls usually have plugs nearby as well - this reduces the visibility of wires)
  • all monitors are open and directly visible for every colleague - so even what managers are doing, is always accessible (transparency is one of our points in the company culture)

We also recommend that no table is facing a window or is opposite of direct sunlight during a day. However, it`s important to be close to windows, to have as much natural light as possible.

(one example from our room for the UI/UX Designers)

Thanks for reading and if you have any feedback, let us know! ([email protected])

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SLM 1902, Sliema, MALTA
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