Open-plan Office Isn’t Dead. Here’s Why We Still Need Collaboration

“It’s loud”, “someone always wants to talk to me”, “I can’t concentrate”, “people constantly walk past me”, “it’s messy”, etc. People who work in open-plan offices face each of these annoyances every day. Still, even if it’s annoying to work in one, you’d think it has to offset by other benefits, right? After all, open-plan offices are ubiquitous. Well, it turns out it’s complicated. To find out more, we’re going to take a look at the past and future of the open-plan office. 

In the 1950s, a team of German designers introduced the idea of open-plan offices. The goal was to allow interaction between workers and thus unlock their collaborative potential. Yet, the second half of the 20th century was all about maximizing space and cutting costs and thus the legendary cubicle replaced the open-plan. Since the early 2000s, office design began to return to the open-plan ideal born in the 1950s. But even on its second try, the contemporary open-plan workspace might have fallen short of the collaboration ideal.

Nonetheless, the open-plan office isn’t dead. Looking ahead, we’ll need workspaces where collaboration and a creative exchange of ideas will be encouraged. The upcoming age of Artificial Intelligence is posing new challenges for office spaces. What will workspaces look like in the future?

open-plan office

Workers in a large, open-plan office, USA, circa 1955. For a complete evolution of office design, check out Morgan Lovell here.

What went wrong with the open-plan office?

According to some, open offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell. Needless to say, the open office layout wasn’t successful in all the cases. Open plan offices have become mass produced as companies neglected to tailor it to their own specific needs. Open workspaces can improve creativity, efficiency, and collaboration only when we design them well. What exactly went wrong with the open-plan office?

1. Open-plan offices became mass produced.

Today, over 70% of US offices are designed as open spaces. What’s wrong with the large popularity of open-plan offices? As much as we believe in the power of a creative exchange of ideas, we realize that there are jobs, that simply require more individual work than others. Companies that failed to tailor the open-plan design to their needs are now facing a heavy backlash from their employees. Not all offices have to or are even able to adopt an open space layout.  

2. Open space alone doesn’t equal collaboration.

Companies naively believe that an open-plan layout itself is like a magic wand for collaboration. In a 2012 survey, three out of four CEOs identified collaboration as the most important trait they were looking for in employees. For many companies, open offices have become viewed as the key to collaboration. However, a collaborative team requires more than just the office design. 

Open-plan offices don’t work for everyone, and companies have failed to realize this.

3. Productive Collaboration has to be learned.

Companies failed to teach people how to use open office workspace. Transitioning from a cubicle or a private office to an open-plan office can be difficult. If a new office layout is introduced, then work behavior needs to be adjusted as well. Collaboration can be taught through targeted team activities, or even by setting simple office rules.

4. Open-plan workspaces weren’t used efficiently.

Many companies didn’t use their open-plan offices efficiently. Using productivity apps such as Slack, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams for quick queries makes team cooperation fast and efficient. Open-plan offices will help put an end to inefficient team meetings and make way for direct and targeted interactions.

open plan office

Will open-plan office survive the AI revolution?

Artificial Intelligence will have an impact on the job market, which will put creative jobs in a crucial position. Due to that, the open-plan office isn’t dead yet. The future job market will require innovation and collaborative work more than ever before. Offices will need to offer creative, flexible and collaborative space. 

1.Only creative offices will survive. 

In 30 years, the majority of non-creative jobs will disappear, and we’ll need offices that encourage innovation. Computation and Artificial Intelligence will impact around 35% of jobs. Only truly creative and people-focused jobs are sure to survive this revolution. The more resilient jobs include designers, programmers, scientists, artists, social workers or even clergy. All of these jobs require innovative thinking and a continuous creative exchange of ideas with fellow experts. In the future, offices will have to encourage exactly this type of collaboration. 

Google, Apple, Facebook and others prove that open-plan workspaces allow for some of the coolest office designs. These workspaces have made creativity and innovation central to their design. In the age of AI, when the economy will depend on creative jobs even more than today, we’ll need open-plan offices that will inspire workers through stimulating design. 

The upcoming age of Artificial Intelligence is posing new challenges for office spaces. What will they look like?

2. Employees will need flexibility at work.

We need to create offices that recognize the autonomy of employees and give them freedom of choice. Especially if we take into consideration that the millennials and gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010) are the upcoming generations of professionals.

Millennials get a lot of a bad reputation, yet they’re in many cases changing the workplace for the better. They’re ready to dive straight into their jobs, but at the same time, they want their jobs to fit in with their life. And so offices will have to become increasingly more flexible in accommodating this generation. Millennials need flexibility as to when and where they work. Wanting your employees to sit at an assigned desk, working 9-5 is not how you attract employees today. People already work remotely more often than ever before. At the same time, companies will increasingly choose from a global pool of freelance professionals. Offices will have to offer a combination of quiet pods as well as open-plan collaborative spaces for the transformed workforce.    

Open Plan office

Interested in office design? Chock out these office snapshots.

3. Collaboration will become a lifestyle.  

Current trends in office design suggest a move towards creating active professional networks. We’ll need spaces that center their design around ideas and innovation, instead of corporate hierarchy and policies. The upcoming generation of professionals will continue the trend of freelancing, or job-hopping. Therefore collaborative spaces that are open for individuals and their ideas rather than companies are likely to become more popular. 

Moreover, trends such as community co-working and co-living are also likely to grow in popularity. These spaces strive to reach the work/life balance and are already emerging in many countries. If you’re interested in trying co-living right now, check out this list of co-working and co-living spaces around the world. 

Also, if you’re asking what’s the future of work and why should you care about, check out the infographic below. It dives into the psychology of productivity, the ways workplace culture impacts one’s business, and how companies leverage it to attract and retain the best talent.

Open office

In the upcoming years, creative jobs will become crucial for the job market. It’s time to reconsider our hate against open-plan workspaces and once again regain trust in the power of productive collaboration.

Want to see some of the coolest open-plan offices in the world? Check out our series on the coolest offices ever and see what it’s like to work at Google, Uber, or Facebook! 








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