Designing an Open Office That Your Team Will Love

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Designing an Open Office That Your Team Will Love

Kate Hartfeld and Jenny Mallette-Nichols

Photo credit: Inscape — Systems 

Designing an open office

In recent years, more and more workplaces have adopted the open office concept. Although this approach used to be reserved for architecture and creative firms, it’s now standard for most modern workplaces. But are open design office concepts for everyone?

No two offices are the same. That’s why the best open plan designs are custom tailored to fit the workstyle, culture and day-to-day operations of each office. The concept of an open office layout is malleable. To be successful, an open office layout needs to be designed thoughtfully and specifically for each individual company. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Considerations include the average time spent on the phone daily, the frequency of conference calls vs. private calls, project collaboration and workstyle. 

Ultimately, it comes down to creating an open feel while still incorporating elements of privacy — especially in regard to sound. Many offices feature clusters of desks with panel separations. When someone needs to be on a lengthy call, that individual is forced to move to a conference room in order to avoid distracting others. 

This phone call dilemma is common. To address it, furniture has evolved and now includes features such as sound masking and “space within a space” to make office designs simultaneously open and private.

In the design world, we’re all aware of a lingering dichotomy: open design success stories countered by tales of projects that flopped. So what are the key ingredients that will put your office open design in the “win” column? 

encased seating

The secrets of success

In highly regulated industries where privacy is a major concern, open office concepts simply won’t work for most staff members. Instead, there is a “movin’ on up” continuum. Entry level staff typically start with a bench or desk cluster. Once promoted, it is common to move an associate into a cubicle workstation with taller panels. The next upward move often finds the employee in a private office. These stages of privacy help to manage the disruption of sound and align the workspace environment with the level of privacy required. We recommend including a table and few chairs throughout the office footprint to accommodate small working meetings and impromptu collaboration. 

In all cases, well-planned sound management is music to everyone’s ears — especially in close quarters. Sound masking generally takes the form of a white noise speaker, while acoustic tiles integrated into furniture and panels provide sound absorption. 

Incorporating privacy seating is also essential for noise management. This includes office phone booths that are typically enclosed with high sides and a roof to provide privacy for solo phone calls. Encased seating can be singular or have multiple seats, often with an adjustable desk surface and is surrounded on three sides to make it soundproof. Outside sounds stay out, and inside sounds stay in. 

Managing sound

Sound masking and absorption is front and center when it comes to finding ways to make an open office work. Sound absorption has come a long way and now includes fun design options such as acoustic art and lighted acoustic panels, which can be wall mounted, ceiling mounted or free-standing as part of desk or cubicle construction.

What does the future hold?

Open office concepts are constantly evolving as technology trends continue to impact the modern workplace. As today’s students enter the workforce, they expect to see collaborative designs that mirror the innovative learning environments that they have grown up with. What types of new innovations will furniture manufacturers introduce that will shape tomorrow’s trends? Subscribe for updates, and we’ll keep you posted on the latest buzz in the work world.

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