Mental Health Training

To Open Plan, or Not to Open Plan? by Jane McNeice

Posted by on 12 Aug, 2021 in Mental Health |

To Open Plan, or Not to Open Plan? by Jane McNeice

The case for and against open plan offices continues to be debated and I truly feel the reason for this is because we believe it must be one or the other, and in some way, one will win out. What is more unusual is that we expect the black or white outcome. Why would we? Human beings are all different.

I could find you one person who will make a very convincing case for open plan workspace and the benefits of this, and I can find you another who could make an equally good case for a more closed environment. The issue with this is any of the benefits, and the extent of those benefits, depend on the individual experiencing the environment, and we may also question whom the ultimate beneficiary is, employer or employee, or both?

I personally fall into the group who prefer a closed space. I find open plan excruciatingly uncomfortable, and the reasons are exceptionally important to me, and to you, if you are someone wanting to maximise my potential.

Open Plan Workspace – Supposed benefits

  • Opportunities for communication and collaboration (will you get this from everyone?);
  • Room to expand;
  • Cost savings on equipment, construction, and utilities;
  • Integration of teams;
  • Getting the best out of extroverts who energise by being around people.

Open Plan Workspace – Disadvantages

  • Lost potential from more introverted workers who re-energise and achieve potential in quieter less people populated areas;
  • Lost potential from Autistic employees who very often require quieter places where they can be themselves (i.e., not feel the need to socially mask), and not feel the pressure of social communication;
  • Noise, and the negative impact this has on some people more than others;
  • People who don’t prefer open plan soon start to mark out their space and sometimes install partitioning or screens in place anyway.

Should we not instead be re-framing the debate towards how we can make workplaces that are variable and person-centred enough to meet all needs, either by installing permanent smaller spaces e.g., work pods, or folding door areas which can be adapted at different times. Should we also be thinking about work spaces in the broadest sense to now include people’s homes? In the last year we have seen a seismic shift towards home working, and the increased use of technology in the last two decades also means that many people can work from pretty much anywhere in the world, provided they have sufficient connectivity for their needs.

All in all, as with many workplace systems and management practices, we need to understand our people and to explore the best ways to achieve the maximum potential from that person, both for their benefit, and for ours. Through taking a more person-centred approach in the way we manage employees we are much more likely to achieve the things that those with either preference will benefit from regardless.

At Mind Matters, our Mental Health First Aid, and i-ACT (for Positive Mental Health) programs, can assist you in identifying those employees who may be experiencing difficulties with their work or environment and equip you in how to have open conversations, adopt active listening skills, and make effective use of tools and strategies for improvement. If you’d like to learn more about supporting employees in a person-centred way, please check our full range of online and face-to-face training programs.