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Are Open Offices Really That Bad?


By Greg Zimmerman Facilities Management

Are open office plans really the bane of every office employees’ existence? A recent headline in Bloomberg screams “Everyone Hates The Open Office Plan. It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.” The story is basically about all the annoyances open offices may create for workers if they’re not designed properly — noise, smells, the inability to concentrate, etc. The solutions, says the piece, is a mix of open and private spaces and more thoughtful consideration of all the components that affect people’s experience of a space. After all, “the most crucial components of a well-considered interior—air quality, light, temperature, and overall comfort—aren’t perceptible unless they’re flawed or missing.”

Well, duh, said every facility manager reading this. This isn’t exactly breaking news, is it? Getting acoustics right, making sure employees have plenty of fresh air, and ensuring access to daylight and views aren’t just best practices for open offices, they’re best practices for buildings in general.

How facility managers create that space in which workers can be most productive often depends on the culture of the individual organization. It’s why office space at law firms looks different than space at tech companies. The May cover story of Building Operating Management looks at how corporate culture influences workspace design and operations. “The day of the cookie-cutter workplace is over,” the story proudly proclaims. And that has as much to do with open office plans as any other type of space.

Open office plans can’t be cookie-cutter either, and the days of the generic cubicle farm are over, too. Facility managers must incorporate and meld the influences and preferences of the occupants who use the space in order to make it most effective, and to ensure that these occupants don’t, as the Bloomberg article proclaims, hate the open office plan.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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