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Adapting your office space into an "office of the future" format usually means leveraging an open office design to save money on real estate costs and improve staff collaboration. Before you convert, there are six pros and cons to consider.

Open office with many workers collaborating

As you consider your next corporate lease renewal or building purchase, you might be asking yourself, “Should we move to an open office environment?

If you are, you’re not alone. Companies all over the country are attempting to leverage an “office of the future” mentality to reap the possible cost and human resource benefits.

Before we consider whether an open, modern office of the future is right for your organization, it’s important we first define what office of the future really means and how it relates to the movement toward open offices.

What’s the difference between "open office" and "office of the future"?

A few decades ago, offices had a consistent design: walled offices along the building perimeter glass, administrative and support staff in the interior.

Now, there’s a shift in how people think about their offices — from the size to the layout to the brand message it conveys. Office of the future is the shorthand for expressing all of these ideas, and the theoretical benefits that go with it.

We can characterize office of the future with three key elements:

  1. Integration of technology
  2. Reduction of the workspace square footage per worker
  3. Some degree of open office design and shared workspaces: desk sharing, free desking or free addressing, and workstations or benching

A tablet, a cubicle, and a benching-style desk

Many people consider “office of the future” to be synonymous with “open offices.” But open office design is merely one piece of the office of the future movement.

As it turns out, it’s a contentious piece as well.

The pros and cons of an open office design

We don’t need a research study to tell us that our workforce relies heavily on technology. We’re living that reality every day. Furthermore, technology has allowed us to reduce the amount of space needed per worker, since we have less need for paper files and storage spaces.

What’s less clear is whether open office design is a positive or negative trend. Before you convert to an open office design, you must weigh three main benefits with three prevalent concerns.

3 benefits of an open office

There are dozens of resources online that expound the pros of open offices. Open offices can help organizations:

  1. Save money on real estate costs by shrinking the square footage needed per worker. Is your office square footage footprint above or below 200 square feet per worker?
  2. Improve productivity and interdepartmental collaboration. Some sources say staff become up to 1.3 times more engaged at work.
  3. Reduce electricity costs and improve staff mood through daylighting. Workplace studies show daylight-sensing controls can reduce energy costs by as much as 60 percent.

3 concerns about open offices

There are many concerns with open offices, but we’ll highlight three of the most prevalent:

  1. Loss of personal space means staff could feel disconnected and disengaged from their work.
  2. Distractions, both acoustical and visual, can interrupt work that requires quiet. This can drive staff to their home or a nearby coffee shop.
  3. Office politics could become a concern without buy-in from staff at all levels of the organization, especially if you’re significantly reducing office sizes or eliminating private offices.

It is possible to get all the benefits of the office of the future with none of the drawbacks from an open office design.

How to covert to an office of the future the right way

It is possible to get all the benefits of the office of the future with none of the drawbacks from an open office design. We recommend you keep these tenets in mind as you convert to an open office:

Customize your workspaces to support the work your staff do.

Buy-in will come easier if your space configurations make sense to your staff. Technology companies may find benching has no downside because of their largely Millennial workforce and intense need for cross-departmental collaboration. Law firms, on the other hand, may need a larger percentage of private offices to support confidential client interactions.

Offer flexible spaces to support multiple work styles.

Staff have different space needs depending on whether their doing collaborative, learning, social, or focused work. The right mix of benches, cubicles, huddle rooms, and large conference areas will provide options for staff to collaborate in the office without letting distractions drive them to Starbucks.

Image that show workers in huddle rooms, taking calls and working in private groups

Help your staff understand the benefits of the open office.

Staff are going to have concerns about an open office layout. Building a mock-up of the new desk layout so staff can test it out beforehand can address many of their concerns as well as provide insight into potential modifications that can go a long way to obtaining staff buy-in. You might also provide in advance clear guidelines and feedback channels so staff see you mitigating the known disadvantages of open office environments.

What office of the future means for you

It’s easy to show the benefits of square footage reduction and daylighting in an office of the future environment — a simple spreadsheet will prove you saved money on real estate costs and overhead. Productivity and collaboration is a little harder to quantify, but with time and staff support, you will notice a change.

If you’re considering an office of the future design, Plante Moran Cresa can guide you through these six considerations (and others) to help you determine if a new office design will work for your organization. If you’d like to reduce costs and increase collaboration in your office, reach out to us today.

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