Open-plan offices are the controversy of the moment.
“Open-plan offices were devised by Satan in the deepest caverns of hell” exclaims the Guardian.
“Cubicles are the worst,” cries out the Harvard Business Review.
Coworking spaces look similar to open-plan offices so how far does this controversy extend?
The bubbling resentment towards new open-plan corporate workspaces finally has something to rest its hat on. Research from the University of Sydney Centre for Built Environment has concluded that private enclosed offices perform better than open-plan offices against satisfaction metrics.
More importantly, contrary to new workplace design theory, it found the negative impacts of open-plan (lack of privacy, heightened noise) have an impact on workspace satisfaction.
Large open-plan offices have been long been promoted for potentially improving communication between workers and improved worker satisfaction.
In coworking spaces, there are many open-plan areas, which facilitate and encourage connectivity between members. Coworking spaces are renowned for the variety of opportunities that result from connections between members.
Recent research from the Rotterdam School of Management determined that 1 in 8 coworkers found a new job or temporary assignment, and 1 in 4 coworkers started professional partnerships or collaborations with other members.
There’s definitely an upside to a coworking community being able to connect with one another in an open-plan workspace design. So what about the supposed detriments of an open-plan setting?
In the workspace design satisfaction study, individuals were asked to score their workspace on a variety of metrics and provide an overall satisfaction score with their workspace. In shared work environments, the factors causing the greatest amount of dissatisfaction were “sound privacy” and “visual privacy”.
Interestingly, the study found that the “amount of space” not only received poor scores across all office types, it was also the greatest determinant of overall satisfaction. With the exception of private offices, over 15% of respondents weren’t happy with the amount of space available.
From a coworking perspective, these results are surprising. Coworkers are the highest-density worker population (higher than any open-plan corporate workspace), and yet value their workspace so much so that they pay to be in it.
Based on the study results, coworkers should be some of the unsatisfied with their workspace and yet they tend to be some of the happiest.
Workers citing noise levels, lack of privacy and insufficient space in open-place offices does not mean the solution is a return to private offices or bigger workspaces. We know from coworking that it’s not the size that matters, but how well it’s used.
So what can we learn from coworking?
User-Orientatated Workspace Design
Insufficient privacy isn’t the direct outcome of an open-plan office, but a poorly-designed space. There’s a big difference between creating an open-plan office and a user-oriented collaborative workspace.
Open-plan offices often just have workstations and standardised meeting rooms. People don’t have space for visual or sound privacy, which understandably becomes frustrating.
The most successful spaces ensure a level of culture-change readiness and management through co-creation, and consulting with users to understand their current and future needs, and invite them to participate actively in the changes.
Diverse Spaces for Diverse Occasions
Coworking spaces work because of the variety of spaces available to members; you can find the right space to do any activity, with quiet pods, cafés, phone booths and more. Open-plan offices that are simply cubicles without walls do not provide diversity of space.
It’s easy to say we need to return to the days of private offices, but more important is providing an optimal workspace. Workspace design is no different to home design; the utility of the space is key.
A mansion doesn’t make a great home environment if you don’t have places to sleep, eat and play. It’s about an experience that encompasses space, community and culture.
Read more: How to Choose the Best Coworking Space
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