5 Considerations For Open Offices Versus Closed Offices

1. Employee Recruitment and Retention

The cost of employment is normally the highest expense a business has, so getting the best value for your labor expense dollar is crucial.  Understanding the work environment that attracts the best employees in a firm’s field can make or break that business venture.  For example, try opening a law firm and recruit top lawyers that are ready to join the firm, bring in clients and rack up the billable hours.  Now imagine showing them the cubicle farm in which they will be working and all you’d hear in that office is the sound of crickets because those lawyers will end up taking jobs at another firm.  However, at a software development firm, open offices would be expected and likely welcomed with “open” arms.  Pardon the pun.

Keeping a firm’s turnover rate down aids providing customers with higher quality service and reliability and reduces the cost of recruiting and training.  That may be the single most important driving factor in making the best decision for not only the amount of private offices to open offices, but also the location and quality of the building where the offices are located.

2. Cost

Open plans take up less space, so they cost less. An open office can efficiently be laid out in as little as 100 to 150 square feet per employee, while closed offices will likely begin at 250 square per employee and most likely be higher when losing economies of scale with small and medium sized office suites. Don’t confuse this calculation with the actual square footage of a cubicle or private office.  The square footage per employee can vary drastically because it takes into account all areas of the office.  This includes walk spaces between cubicles, hallways, kitchens, conference rooms, storage closets, and literally ever area of a company’s office suite including the core factor of the building and dividing that by the number of workers.  Keep in mind that the true cost of an office space takes more into account than just what the rent is.  See the first item above, recruitment, for instance. The old saying applies, “You get what you pay for.” 

3. Synergies

If your firm benefits from worker collaboration, you need open offices with lower cubicle walls.  For private conversations, some generic shared, closed, private offices can be designed into the plan so employees have a place to temporarily go, shut the door and have a private conversation before returning to the cube.

4. Hierarchy

Private offices can be a strong visual reminder of who’s successful in a company.  While some will argue the Millennial generation does not value hierarchy because they place higher value on equality, let’s face facts… Employers want motivated employees that do value getting ahead and reaping the rewards of working harder or working smarter.  It’s been proven over and over again through studies that employees react stronger to public acknowledgement of their successes than they do by simply earning more money.  A bonus check is always good, but call out an employee and praise them in the conference room in front of their peers and they are a glowing for the rest of the week and bragging about it back home, showing up to work all the earlier the next day.  Providing a way to earn a private office, especially with a sales force, is a strong motivating factor because it comes with the added benefit of creating worker pride, company allegiance and a goal to strive towards.

5. Flexibility and Individualism Versus Community

It is a lot easier and less expensive to move cubicles around than to move closed, hard walled offices.  Because of the expense and construction disruption to business, going the closed office route in certain areas of an overall office suite design is normally a permanent decision that survives the length of an office lease which is normally many years.  There are all sorts of cubicle systems that create flexibility in layout and design to create more individual work space quantity and privacy or lessen it if that is what is desired.  There is going to be a give and take trade-off between designing space for individualism and privacy versus a sense of community and encouraging worker collaboration.

There are certainly other important factors that matter in office space design decisions.  Industry norms, trends and budgets certainly play a role.  Hopefully, the five items above were a helpful reminder to keep an “open” and not “closed” mind when it comes to evaluating the design of your next office space.

By: Brian Rossi