How to Fix Your Open Office Plan

How to Fix Your Open Office Plan

How to Fix Your Open Office Plan

In the 1940s, the concept of the open office plan first appeared. The philosophy of an open office is that it encourages creativity, collaboration, and saves money on real estate costs. By the 1990s, the open office became the standard for emerging technology companies. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, many studies have been conducted on the benefits of open office plans. Some boast that open office plans help encourage collaboration and creativity. In addition, some say that open offices help have lower real-estate costs. However, open office plans come with several cons. In this article, Kensington Glass Arts discusses the cons of open office plans and your potential alternatives to the open office plan.

The Problem with Open Office Plans

Image of three people in an open office plan. Two people have their backs turned looking at one Apple computer screen. One person is looking off in the distance with a negative facial expression.

Less Face-To-Face Interactions

One of the purposes of an open office plan is to encourage collaboration and face-to-face interactions. However, studies have shown that workers in open office plans spent 73 percent less time in face-to-face interactions. There are different theories regarding why.

Some individuals believe that employees will build a “fourth wall” between themselves and their colleagues. The fourth wall is a concept with origins in the theater. In short, stage performers are encouraged to act as if there is an invisible wall between the stage and the audience. This invisible wall is done to allow actors to not get distracted and encourage better performances. This concept applies to open office plans. Employees will attempt to be respectful of their colleagues’ space and privacy by building that invisible wall.

Costs: Disease and Productivity

Another purpose of the open office plan is to save on total real estate costs when designing your office. However, the long-term costs – to you and your employees – may prove to outweigh these real estate costs.

The coronavirus showed another fatal flaw in the open office plan. The open office plan is the likelihood to spread infection. In one open office in Seoul, South Korea, 43.5% of one floor tested positive for coronavirus. However, studies prior to the coronavirus have shown similar conclusions. Employees who are in open office plans take 62 additional sick days in comparison to employees in a different office plan. Further, some hypothesize that open office plans may be related to an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. While the real estate cost may be low, your company may be suffering due to the sheer number of days your employees need to call out due to sickness. In addition, the slowed productivity during sick days may end up costing your company more than building enclosed office spaces, to begin with.

There are other additional issues with the open office plan. Open office plans are often noisy and employees may be stressed due to lack of privacy. Employees may feel additional pressure to “look busy” when actually they are getting less work done.

New Solutions for your Office Plans

After the coronavirus pandemic shut down thousands of offices across the United States, many are looking for new alternatives to help with social distancing.

Remote Work

Image of a woman working from home on a laptop.

Remote work provides many benefits. Firstly, employees are not sharing space at all. Therefore, the spread of disease is highly limited. Additionally, working from home means you’re saving on total real estate costs. In addition, many workers say they enjoy working from home. Further, enabling your employees to work-from-home part-time can save, on average, $11,000 per year. On a similar note, your business is likely to see higher employee retention if you offer flexible, work-from-home options.

Remote Work Cons

However, there are some disadvantages to working from home. Firstly, your business may thrive in a face-to-face collaborative environment. While video conferences exist, it is much more difficult for short in-person check-ins with your employees. The relationships your employees have with one another may suffer. Studies have shown that working in close physical proximity increases interpersonal liking between individuals. In addition, there’s the possibility of increased distractions at home versus in the office. Children, pets, or general household tasks may distract your employees from working as efficiently as possible. Conversely, your employee may have more difficulty unplugging from work. Without the clear boundary of work and home, your employees’ overall job satisfaction may decrease. Further, it can be difficult to monitor your employees’ productivity from home.

Activity-Based Working

An image of a woman working in a small glass room with a coffee shop style environment.
Eugene Kim from San Francisco, USA / CC BY (

Activity-Based Working, or ABW, is an open office plan that involves giving your employees the option to work where they’d feel most comfortable inside your office building. Employees have no assigned work stations and instead have the option to work in a variety of different conditions. For example, you may provide your employees with a small coffee-shop style space to work collaboratively but quietly. You may also provide your employees with traditional desks with dividers to help them work silently. Maybe you’d like to add some couches to your office so employees may be in a comfortable environment while working. There are many more types of spaces you may wish to add to your office for activity-based working. This space of working gives your employees the choice to work how they wish to in your office.

Activity-Based Working Cons

While ABW gives your employees a variety of spaces to do their work, giving your employees an assigned space provides different benefits. For example, having stability in the office can improve productivity and employee happiness. Having to select a new place to work each day can feel like an unstable, unpredictable environment. In addition, some employees need assigned spaces to keep track of documents and organize their space. Some individuals may prefer or need to keep paper documents. Having an assigned desk where they can store any documents. Further, some employees may wish to decorate their desks or leave personal objects without worrying about them being moved. Having assigned desks can also help keep your employees accountable. You will know where your employees are supposed to be if needed.

In addition, it may be costly to your business to have many different types of spaces. It may prove to be more cost-efficient to buy desks in bulk. Further, if your employees use desktop computers instead of laptops, having assigned desks is a necessity to ensure you have the same desktop each day. Finally, if you use an ABW environment, you may see some of the same cons as an open office plan. Your employees may continue to suffer from noisy distractions from their colleagues’ different working styles. Further, as the coronavirus pandemic continues, it may be difficult to monitor if your employees are social distancing and wearing their masks properly. Therefore, you may still continue seeing a spike in disease.

Standard Cubicles

This classic office plan is popular for many reasons. Firstly, cubicles give your employees a private space to decorate as they please. In addition, noise is generally reduced because of the dividers between each desk. The dividers also help control and limit the spread of germs, limiting the number of times your employees call out sick.

Cubicle Cons

Despite cubicles being a classic office style, it does have some potential drawbacks. Cubicles often have a higher up-front cost in comparison to open office plans. With cubicles, you’ll have to buy individual desks and dividers. Meanwhile, with an open office, you have the option to only purchase desks. However, recall our earlier discussion regarding the spread of disease with open offices. We’d recommend conducting a cost-benefit analysis to see which style will be most cost-efficient for you in the long-term.

Traditional cubicles can block natural light from some employees’ desks. This may limit their productivity. Further, traditional cubicles have a negative connotation. Traditional cubicles can feel out-of-date if not implemented properly into your office. Finally, traditional cubicles can discourage collaboration between coworkers. The walls of traditional cubicles can make employees feel isolated from one another and make it less likely for them to have face-to-face conversations.

Glass Cubicles or Partitions

Kensington Glass Arts would like to provide a more creative option to help ease the feeling of distance between employees with standard cubicles. KGa has installed glass office dividers in our own office amongst several of our other Success Stories offices.

Glass Desk Dividers at Turner Construction Company

With the clear glass, our employees can still see one another if they need to chat. In addition, the glass creates a literal barrier between each desk, limiting physical contact. This gives your office the best of both worlds. Employees still feel close in proximity to their coworkers and can collaborate easily. Conversely, glass dividers help cancel out noise and limit distractions and the spread of disease with the literal barrier.

In addition, you can get creative with glass cubicles. Glass is an essential element for modern interior design. Depending on what look you’d like for your office, you can install standard tempered glass for a classic look or one of our specialty glass products for a more modern look. You can also order custom-painted glass for a more artistic and innovative look in your office.

KGa can install demountable glass wall systems, which allow your employees to make their cubicle work for them. The demountable glass wall systems can make your office have a new feel when your employees want to change their space. We can also install foldable glass systems to expand conference rooms.

Glass cubicles are one of the most sustainable designs for your office. Glass is recyclable, which means if you ever want to change your office design it is easy to do so with good consciousness you’re staying green. Further, traditional cubicles can block out natural light in your office. However, glass cubicles do the opposite. Glass cubicles can make your office feel more open and let in natural light. In turn, you will save on electricity costs. You will not need to turn all your office lights on if natural sunlight does the job. Glass cubicles still provide the benefits of all other plans. To quote Max Perilstein, marketing professional in the glazing industry,

I think glass is the winner. When it’s all said and done, glass is going to be the building product of choice. It’s solid, obviously, we all love it. The ability to allow natural light to come through both interior and exterior and allow open spaces and give the protection needed. No other product can do that. Plastic scratches, fades, [and] discolors.

Max Perilstein, From the Fabricator Podcast

Hybrid Office Plans

Most can agree that having a hybrid office may prove to be the most efficient way to move forward. Giving your employees the assigned seats of cubicles gives them privacy, while glass dividers allow them to still see and feel close to their coworkers. Further, designing your office space to accommodate many different types of work styles can help increase productivity. Giving employees the option to work from home when necessary can increase employee satisfaction. One thing is clear: glass dividers provide a variety of benefits.

It’s important to consider the costs and benefits specific to your workplace when thinking about office design. Whatever you select should be accommodating to as many employees as possible. If you’re interested in getting glass office dividers installed in your office, you can contact us now.

About Kensington Glass Arts

An image of the outside of KGa's Ijamsville, Maryland location
The KGa Ijamsville, MD location

Kensington Glass Arts is a commercial glass fabricator, installer, and service contractor. Kensington Glass Arts has three physical locations in Ijamsville, Frederick, and Baltimore, Maryland. KGa services areas outside of Maryland as well, such as Washington D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia. Kensington Glass Arts can assist you through all the steps of the construction process. If you’re interested in learning more about KGa, visit our About Us page now.