Due to rapid technological advances, the workplace has seen many changes in working practice over the last couple of centuries. From cottage spinning and weaving, through factories to modern-day collaborative workspaces, the office has evolved as economic activity has shifted focus.

Historically, the open plan office has been somewhere to squeeze as many workers as possible into the least space, while still providing them with the room required to do their job. In the days when clerks and typists were needed in large quantities, it made sense to arrange the staff in rows which could be easily supervised.

However, these open-plan spaces are now being used to encourage collaboration in modern office environments. When looking for the best office space Derby has to offer, you’ll need to consider how both open-plan and cubicle layouts will affect how your teams work together.

The Cubicle

While such “exam-style” layouts are convenient for supervisors in departments where a pool of workers are allocated tasks based solely on their current workload, they can be distracting and noisy places to work. In 1967 “Action Office II” was released – consisting of mobile wall-units that could create semi-enclosed workspaces – and the time of the cubicle began.

The problem with cubicles is that, while they offer a degree of privacy, they also isolate workers from one another. It’s almost impossible to have casual conversations without getting up, walking to your colleague’s cubicle and entering their space. Cubicles crush collaboration.

The best of both worlds

Modern offices accept that workers work best when the environment supports their activities. For some tasks, being able to retreat into a cubicle is still advantageous. It provides privacy and reduces unwanted interruptions. Yet, for others, being able to ask your neighbour to clarify something you are struggling with, or being able to solicit casual comments on your design, encourages the creative juices to flow.

The modern open-plan office aims to have different areas for different functions. Perhaps there will be a few cubicles for quiet tasks, coupled with breakout areas where groups of employees can gather for impromptu brainstorming sessions. Some offices have moved to a “hot desk” model where any employee can use any available desk, while others have removed the dividers and created spaces where teams can see and interact with each other throughout the day. In some offices, movable dividers can be used, allowing employees to create a cubicle around their own desk by lifting a blind.

The ideal open plan office

The first step towards building a collaborative office is to choose a good building to create your offices in. Narrow rooms, with windows on either side, allow plenty of natural light into the building. Where possible, workspaces should be positioned near the windows, where employees can use the natural light as much as possible. Not only can this save on lighting costs, but it also improves your employees quality of life, reducing sick days and increasing productivity.

Open plan offices which offer a variety of workspaces increase productivity the most. Workers can then utilise the most appropriate space for the task they are undertaking. Arrange the furniture so that teams are close and can easily look up and ask questions of each other. Visual contact with other workers can actually reduce noise, as cubicles create a false sense of privacy, encouraging loud conversations that can be heard across the floor. Install breakout areas for longer discussions and access to private spaces as required.

Towards happier employees

Office workers like to have colleagues and to feel part of the team. Open offices encourage them to feel integrated and this, in turn, improves their creativity, pride in their work and productivity. Open, flexible office layouts make for happier individuals and more collaborative teams.