4 types of open-plan office layouts for your business

Open-plan offices continue to evolve in terms of both design and space requirements. 

Some open plan offices are a ‘hybrid’ mix of private corporate spaces and linear partitioned areas, while others are coworking or flexible spaces.

What works best for you depends entirely on your business needs and demands. Experts in the office fit-out industry explain why.

What is an open-plan office?

Open-plan offices are one large area with employee desks set close, or next to, each other.

The desks can feature partitions to partly separate space between different teams or people, while still allowing them to enjoy greater communication for things like brainstorming.

Open-plan offices are popular for their cost-effectiveness and for improving staff rapport. Although such spaces can also come with more noise and less privacy and may in turn, create concentration and attention issues.

Colleagues working in modern office

Open-plan offices are popular but come with more noise and less privacy. Picture: Getty

Four kinds of open-plan offices to consider

With a combination of private corporate offices and linear partitioned areas, hybrid office fit-outs are very popular but other, smaller businesses are still satisfied with simple linear partitioned areas.

1. Hybrid

This blend of office space with its mixture of private offices, meeting rooms and open-plan areas is ideal, according to Office Projects’ Patrick Montague.

Large, quiet areas are particularly useful for employees needing to get away from an open-plan area’s noise for awhile or who simply need to concentrate on an important job or project, the manager and director added.

“Just having a quiet room [somewhere in your hybrid area] can work exceptionally well, and these areas can be the next best thing to a private office,” Mr Montague explained.

Businesses that particularly appreciate hybrid offices include lawyers and suburban medical professionals, Nick Halakatevakis of Innovatus Projects explained.

“Lawyers’ offices are going to the hybrid offices because they want to have one-on-one consultations with their clients in their own office,” the director said.

“Lawyers also want clients to be able to get into the private office separately without seeing stuff out in an open-plan area.”

Mr Halakatevakis added that medical professionals were another business that appreciated hybrid offices.

“Medical areas are very closed off as well,” he said.

“They just like a reception area, a research and development area and an area to do all the screening and similar.”

2. Half partitions

For space efficiency, few open-plan office areas can beat linear or back-to-back sectors, according to Mr Montague.

These sectors see 50cm-high partitions, or screens, set on top of employees’ desks enabling some privacy and quiet time while also still allowing for conversation and brainstorming between teams.

Women tailoring in a small business

Open-plan offices can foster a more brainstorming-friendly environment for workers, as well as saving money for employers. Picture: Getty

“Linear partition decking systems accommodate more people so it’s very efficient from a space perspective,” Mr Montague said.

“Plus it’s very good collaboratively for teams who work closely together and are in communication all day.

The downside to half-partition areas is the often noisier spaces resulting in a potential lack of concentration and focus for employees, Mr Montague said.

But he believes noise can be lessened with planter boxes or floor-to-ceiling slat walls.

“It’s all about balance,” he said.

“And again, noise in open-plan areas is only to be expected as with more people, there will also be more ambient noise.

“For businesses where you’ve got a dynamic team who work together all of the time, then half partitions deliver 100% of the time.”

Businesses particularly suited to half partitions include financial establishments and port authority companies, Mr Halakatevakis said.

3. Coworking/flexible office

With more workers working from home more often, many companies are now turning to coworking and flexible spaces.

A woman works on a tablet device while seated at a couch inside a co working area of the Queen & Collins building

The Mezzanine areas in the Queen and Collins precinct in Melbourne offers flexible work spaces. Picture: Sharyn Cairns/ BVN+KTA

This allows companies to add or relinquish space quickly to suit their changing needs as many firms adapt to the hybrid working models that have come about since lockdowns ended.

These working spaces can also include extra desks and function spaces too.

4. Plexiglass partition offices

The pandemic has also seen partitions now being rebuilt  in some offices, but with high Plexiglass sections, to allow for both social distancing as well as the potential for team members to see each other while working.

“We remodel what we currently have and make it a COVID [safe] space,” Mr Halakatevakis explained.

“By introducing Plexiglas, even though the partition is higher, you can still see your friend on the other side.”

For medical businesses in particular this is important as even administration staff are often required to wear face masks and socially distance from patients and clients.

Do open-plan offices really work?

Despite being popular in many sectors, industry experts say there are many downsides to open-plan offices.

Perceived advantages can include better communications, teamwork and productivity and generally happier staff ambience.

“But I don’t think this is true,” Mr Halakatevakis said.

“People find it hard to concentrate on their work in open-plan offices with people always asking others to keep the noise down.”

Small business office

What office style works best for your small business? Picture: Getty

Mr Halakatevakis explained open-plan noise could be particularly difficult for new staff coming from private offices.

As well, while open-plan offices can be appreciated for their more casual and light-hearted ambience, hybrid offices could see employees too casually walking into private offices spaces and start talking to staff.

“A lot of people do get annoyed that way,” he said.

“But to combat these issues, people can wear earphones or earplugs or other technology to say, ‘I’m busy, go away’.”

Five factors to consider when deciding which open-plan office fitout is best for your business

So there are a few options to consider when deciding on what layout to choose for your open-plan office.

Remember, office layouts affect people’s day to day experience of being at work – and can play a part in their overall enjoyment of a role.

It is an important decision to make not only for you but for your team as well.

With this comes the compromise that if your company favours an open-plan configuration, the company needs to ensure a ‘break out’ area that is enticing to staff for lunch, recreation and possible ‘brain storming’ group activities.

Your final choice around which fitout you go with will depend on the following factors:

1. The size of your business

If your business is just starting out then it might make sense to keep everyone closer together so they can feel like they’re an important part of the team.

Many workers may want to be closer to management so they can feel supported and be able to discuss day-to-day issues as they arise.

Larger businesses won’t be able to have everyone together so will need to decide on which mixture of open-plan options best suits their needs.

2. The location of your business

If your business is located within a CBD then cost will likely be high on your list of considerations when it comes to deciding on a space.

Larger spaces typically command higher prices so if you’re just starting out then you may want to begin with a smaller space before working your way up to something larger.

Alternatively, if your business is located out of the CBD then you’re more free to get creative with your office setup.

Working remotely will also play a part in this decision in a post-pandemic world. Hybrid and flexible offices have become the norm in many industries and experts say it’s a trend that will continue.

3. Ideal workflow

It should go without saying that the type of business you have will impact the decision around the way the office is setup.

Do staff need access to specialist facilities such as 3D printers, machinery, large display monitors? If so then the office setup should be planned around providing this access.

Keeping workers productive and efficient means planning the office space around their most optimal workflow.

If printing is necessary for daily tasks then supply that access. If group meetings are integral to the flow of the business then be sure you have a separate breakout room big enough to seat everyone.

open plan office

If workers need to brainstorm, make sure there’s a place for them to do it that doesn’t interrupt others. Picture: Getty

4. Noise levels

If workers need to communicate directly with customers then excess noise can impact how well they can do their jobs.

Call centre offices typically offer a degree of soundproofing for workers to have private discussions with customers, utilising cubicles or half-partitions.

If customer contact isn’t a requirement or meetings are held offsite then a more open-plan structure that encourages brainstorming and open communication can be utilised.

5. Privacy requirement

Similar to noise levels, the requirement for privacy is incredibly important for some businesses.

In a world where businesses are legally compelled to protect data and privacy of their customers and clients it’s best to consider how privacy can be most practically employed by your staff so that they don’t feel they’re fighting a losing battle to achieve this most basic need.