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Open Office Space: What Are The Pluses and Minuses?

jeffrey weil, jeff weil colliers, colliers san francisco, office leasing

No longer a trend but a standard, the open office has become a symbol of the modern workplace. Building owners can't afford to waste space, so every nook and cranny must be considered a potential work area, according to Buildings magazine. I would change the words "building owners" to "office users," as it is usually the office tenant paying the landlord rent who is concerned with maximizing space usage. Benching systems, collaborative spaces, glass walls -- increased occupancy while leasing a smaller space -- the trade-off of closer co-worker proximity, smaller desks, but the ability to work in different areas, not chained down, but mobile and flexible. Other concepts: the open executive office, with managers seated among their subordinates or using glass walls to foster transparency; floating conference rooms, some just large enough for one or two people; the café corner, with a bistro atmosphere conducive to people touching down and collaborating; the benching alternative with long tables, headphones for privacy and densities as low as 70 square feet per person.

One of the downsides: introverts have issues with open-plan office space and need to be able to access "private space" from time to time. An estimated 35 percent of the workforce fit that category. Steelcase surveyed 39,000 workers and found that 95 percent of them at some point needed access to a private space, whether to call their doctor or spouse, or handle a special client. Susan Cain, who in 2012 published her bestseller Quiet, teamed up with office furniture designer Steelcase to come out with new sealed room concepts ranging from 48 to 100 square feet. "Flow," which evokes a library, has a desk and library shelves for focus work. "Mindshare" has two chairs and a wall-embedded computer screen for team brainstorming. "Be Me" and "Studio" allow workers to decompress, meditate or take a company-sanctioned short nap.

In addition to the needs of introverts is the issue of illness, because open office floor plans may lead to more time off due to sickness. Swedish researchers just came out with a new study comparing data from 2,000 people in seven different office designs, and those who worked in open floor plans took more time off for sickness. Women took more sick time than men in total open layouts, and in open-plan layouts without individual workstations but with some meeting rooms, men had higher rates of "sick leave."

There is no prediction of a return to private offices, as the open plan, increased workforce in a smaller footprint, is here to stay, but there is a realization that one size doesn't necessarily fit all, according to SFGate


By: Jeffrey Weil

Executive Vice President | Colliers International - Walnut Creek

Jeffrey Weil is an executive vice president for Colliers International Walnut Creek. Mr. Weil has specialized in the sale and leasing of commercial properties for 38 years and has achieved CCIM, SIOR and NACORE’s Master in Commercial Real Estate Services with Honors (MCR.h) designations.

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