Does the Open Plan Office Work?

As the open office layout continues to flourish as the preferred layout in newly designed spaces, workplace volume is increasing while distractions resulting from the open office are becoming more apparent.


While background noise is proven to help with stimulation, Harvard Business Review argues that it depends on the type of background noise. When you walk into an open office, it’s common to see people’s headphones plugged in to block out the background noise. So, why they necessary when noise is proven to help with productivity?


HBR states in the open plan office productivity research “The problem may be that, in our offices, we can’t stop ourselves from getting drawn into others’ conversations or being interrupted while we’re trying to focus.” So how should you plan a space to balance the volume levels so employees remain focused and not distracted?


There are two things to consider here: 1) The open office is effective for creative working. 2) Open office noise levels can prevent creative working. Looking at the two conflicting concepts, here are space planning solutions to consider when preparing for an open office design.

Open Plan Office Design Ideas

1) Provide completely sound proof spaces for private phone calls and meetings.


Furniture featured from left to right: Framery O and Framery Q


2) Move noisy conversations and impromptu meetings away from individual work settings.

Cocoon_Boss Design_CIS



Furniture featured from top to bottom: Cocoon by Boss Design, Haven by Allermuir, Heya by OFS


3) Create rooms in convenient locations for employees to hold meetings.



Furniture featured from top to bottom: DIRTT, Rockwell Unscripted Borders by Knoll


4) Separate spaces so cross-over conversations don’t take place.


Telly Screen_Knoll_Rockwell_CIS


Furniture featured from top to bottom: Rockwell Unscripted Puffy Screen by Knoll, Rockwell Unscripted Telly Screen by Knoll, Loftwall


5)  Add sound-masking to your office to diffuse the volume of the conversations taking place.

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Featured: Speech Privacy Systems


The open office can be a successful environment, helping employees engage with their co-workers and work. Studies show that engaging and collaborating with team members creates more efficiencies and inspired work, but as employees collaborate and move around the open office, the work volume goes up and productivity goes down. This goes against the original intent and is hindering the ability of employees to focus and concentrate. Refining the open office layout to provide flexibility so employees can choose the way they work is needed to uphold the efficiency and combat the potential distractions of the open office layout.


By improving collaboration and communication, flattening hierarchies and eliminating silos, open plan office environments can catalyze the innovation your organization seeks. However, this shift comes with a cost – an increased volume that wasn’t there before. By creating solutions for your team, you can make the open environment an ideal place to collaborate and focus.



Also see Optimizing Open Plan Office Acoustics for more information.