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Surprising Survey Results On Open Plans

Los Angeles Office

It's sacrilegious to suggest that creative offices aren't the wave of the future (it could get you arrested in some jurisdictions), but a recent survey on the pros and cons of open office plans reveals that a mere 13% of respondents viewed them as more productive than traditional office plans.

Yesterday, we chatted with SRK Architects managing principal Brian Kite, whose Downtown firm conducted the survey. The impetus was to quantify open office plans through something other than anecdotal experiences. SRK has designed traditional and open office designs for numerous clients, and occupies an open office itself, he notes. While cost-effective and suited to today's workforce, "The question is whether they're actually more productive work environments." Most of the 1,000 survey respondents, representing a cross-section of SoCal companies, think open plans are more productive, but not much more.

The survey results were unveiled at a Downtown Breakfast Club program on the future of office design, featuring a panel with Brian and Gensler co-CEO Andy Cohen (at the podium), moderated by IDS Real Estate SVP Patrick Spillane. In open office layouts, problems relating to sound transmission can arise so workstation acoustics become more important, Brian says, particularly with the benching concept. There's a new etiquette that open plans bring, with "better or worse results depending on how well the layout is done."

Long-term Club member Steve Marcussen of Cushman & Wakefield didn't attend the program, but thinks the pendulum has swung too far. Open plans are great for certain kinds of collaborative work, but the vast majority are forcing people out of their offices. "People just don't come to work anymore. They work from their car, Starbucks, their home, or their client's office." The new open offices can be counter-productive by slowing down work. They often don't have enough conference rooms and they're always full, "so we have to conduct business out in the corridor."

Among other survey findings: Bosses should be embedded with their employees within the same work area. Brian says the idea of execs being on another floor or isolated was less popular with the respondents, especially in an open office scenario where hierarchy status is less prominent.