open floor plan

By Stephen F. Graw

In discussions with my commercial real estate clients about their office space planning, most new clients describe their preferred floor plan like this:

I’m envisioning an open floor plan with transitional cubicles. Think Facebook headquarters. That’s the feel I hope to accomplish.

This is not surprising. Most executives are on the open floor plan bandwagon. The International Management Facility Association’s latest study shows 70 percent of American employees work in an open office plan. A separate study by Smart Planet shows 77 percent of businesses are considering altering their existing office layouts to an open plan.

Why all the hype? A few reasons:

  • It’s hip. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only open floor plan advocate; mega corporations like Google and Zappos tout it as the best option as well. When business giants like these all opt for the same layout, it sends a message to other business owners that it’s the best option.

It may be the best choice for some businesses, but there are a few things that are not so hip about an open floor plan. According to a Journal of Environment and Behavior study, most employees who work in open floor plan offices are unhappy. Further, the Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment and Health found that companies with open office setups reported 63 percent more employee sick days on average than closed office layouts.

  • Open plans stimulate collaboration. The accepted logic is that when everyone is in one space, it’s easier to exchange ideas and reach a new level of thought. Two heads are better than one.

A new study by global architect firm Glensler debunks that theory. Employees of traditional closed office setups were 57 percent more collaborative, and when employees have space for independent focus, they perform 14 percent better and are 31 percent more innovative.

  • Open floor plans are cheaper. I witnessed the open floor plan’s popularity skyrocket in 2008 when the economy tanked. Most business owners were under the impression cubicles cost less than walls and therefore opted for cubicles. That mentality still lingers.

In reality, walls are the more economical choice. When negotiating office space, your commercial broker can typically get the landlord or seller to take on build-out costs. Meaning, that you, the business owner, are only responsible for furniture, fixtures and electric. Cubicles or partitions are considered furniture and typically come out of the your pocket.

So what’s the solution? Choose office space that’s right for your business. If you’re operating an online technical support center, an open space with cubicles may be your best bet. IT supporters in this capacity don’t require independent space for focused thought and don’t constantly have phone conversations that disturb coworkers.

On the flip side, if you’re operating a law firm, independent offices are critical. Lawyers manage a lot of private information. Their files, phone conversations and client meeting must often stay secured behind closed doors.

And of course, you can opt for a hybrid option. You don’t have to choose one extreme or the other when it comes to your office space. If you run an ad agency, you may decide to have the best of both worlds and create an open conference room for brainstorming, but closed offices for independent writing assignments.

When choosing your floor plan, I suggest forgetting the generalities and trends. What’s right for Facebook may not be right for you and your team. You operate a unique business with unique employees and your space should reflect that.

Stephen F. Graw is Senior Advisor at Sperry Van Ness Commercial Realty.