How to make best use of your open-plan office

How do you utilise your open plan office?

Did you know that a study in 2014 found out that employees who work in an open-plan space took 70% more sick days than people who worked from home?

This is one of many studies that have been conducted recently that show the negative effects of open plan offices. This is alarming because 70% of offices in the US are open plan, and that number is uniform in the UK.

Whether or not open-plan offices are better than closed-space ones, the fact is that the layout of your office is probably there to stay.

Not only this, but some of the reported negative effects of open-plan offices such as:

1.     Lack of Privacy

2.     Noise

can be easily reduced. The best solution is to embrace the open-plan setting, and make cost effective changes to increase the productivity in the workplace.

This article will highlight the issues brought about by open-plan offices affecting productivity, and the simple solutions to removing them.

The Main Problem - Productivity

90% of a company’s operating costs is spent on staff costs, according to the World Green Building Council. Therefore, any loss in productivity has a massive dent on your bottom line.

Most research states that the main problem of open plan offices is that they reduce productivity. Whether it’s noise, privacy or over-communication, it all affects your productivity at work.

Privacy at Work

hot desking at work

Research conducted by the Ponemon Institute found employees are 50% less productive when they feel their visual privacy on their screen is at risk. Also, a Gensler survey suggests more than half of workers in open office spaces are distracted by their co-workers. What this means is for some people, an office where co-workers can see your confidential information and distract you does not work. In order to solve this, employees need to see that there are spaces for privacy in the office.

Who wants to hear a personal call from you to your bank manager anyway?

Focusing in the Office

Employees feel that the main goal of open plan offices is to support collaboration, over considerations like focusing and learning. This is a problem which needs to be addressed, because employees say more than half of their week is spent focusing, and increasing. In comparison, less than a quarter of the week is spent collaborating, and this number is decreasing. What this means is that people are beginning to feel open plan offices aren’t supporting their sole goal of focusing in the office.

On top of this, 70% of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of noise at their workspace too. That should get you thinking (or not if you’re in a noisy place)…

The Main Solution

Now, after all that negative talk, here’s the solutions to these productivity problems!

intimate work spaces in the office

Different Office Areas

Currently most open plan offices are full of areas optimised to encourage collaboration, but not much else. Introducing different areas to encourage different types of working, such as privacy areas, would be beneficial.

So, for example, a privacy area would:

-        Be a quiet space to encourage focusing. Solely by everyone there having the same goal would reduce distractions and noise, and increase privacy.

-        Introduce screens between working spaces – it gives the effect of cubicles (more privacy) without the high costs needed for them (cubicles themselves, lighting/other logistics cost increased).

Flexible Seating

For an open office to work, all desks would have to be unassigned, meaning you can move where you work depending on whether you want to collaborate or zone in. In itself, this has cost saving benefits, as you can save a lot of space. Win:win.

As well as this, the combination of being able to move freely between different areas gives you an element of choice. This climate of choice generally increases the employee experience: Innovation, Satisfaction and Workplace Performance all increase by over 5% when employees feel like they have a choice of where to work.

does a well lit office helps you read

Decorate and Light Up your Workplace

Allowing staff to decorate the workplace, such as through adding plants, can have a big effect on productivity, along with having numerous other benefits.

Research found out that workspaces enhanced with office plants can increase productivity by 38%, creativity by 45%, and well-being by 47%.  Just by having a plant!

Natural light has been proven to be effective in increasing productivity at work.

For example, there was a 15% decrease in absenteeism when Lockheed Martin moved staff into a building with abundant natural daylight. This is good for open-plan offices, as natural daylight can infiltrate further into the office without being blocked off by walls or panels. Whilst changing window size is unrealistic, in an open plan office you can make sure you get as much natural light as possible by making sure blinds are open all the time, and placing any screens to not block light.


There you go – I’ve told you how you can best use your open-plan office. I also hope this article will not make you feel helpless next time you look around your open-plan office.

My final tip for managers changing their office space? It’s all about collaboration with your staff.

Whilst the science behind office planning has been thorough and is widespread, not all of it may be best for your employees in reality…


What do you love about your office?