Open Plan Office 2.0: A Guide to Making the Transition

Open plan office design has been popular for many years now, following a global shift in attitudes towards the traditional workspace. Open plan hasn’t been universally embraced, however. Not all employees feel comfortable in such a space, and if implemented without thought and care, open plan workspaces can actually harm productivity, efficiency and staff morale.

While it’s clear that open plan as a model for modern offices isn’t going away any time soon, there’s a new wave of design emerging. This is often called ‘open plan 2.0’, which builds on the basic principles of open plan design but with a great deal more consideration of different working styles and needs. Open plan 2.0 brings employees themselves into the discussion, and involves tailoring spaces to suit business objectives as well as transforming the workspace into a future-proofed and fully flexible environment.

Such a transformation can be a major change for any organisation and its employees, so it’s important to plan the process out carefully. It will inevitably revolutionise the way your company works, and such a change won’t necessarily happen overnight. Here’s our guide to making the transition, so you know what to plan for and what to expect…

open plan office

Understanding what open plan 2.0 is all about

Making the shift to a new kind of open plan office design isn’t about gimmicky aesthetics or following trends. It has to be rooted in what your employees want, and their ways of working. At its heart, open plan 2.0 aims to create a variety of working environments to suit the different needs of your employees and the tasks they carry out every day. In one open plan space, you can zone and define specific working areas. For example, you could introduce:

  • Comfortable spaces for casual meetings and collaborative project working;
  • Booth-style workspaces for quiet phone calls or work requiring concentration;
  • Breakout-style seating and coffee bars - which facilitate socialising, relaxation, team bonding and collaboration all in the one space;
  • A variety of meeting spaces, all usable at a moment’s notice.

The design of such a space has to be done very carefully. It can be a challenge to include so much in one space, and to define each area carefully and equip it with what the users of the space will need. But it can be done, and done very successfully with the right design, choice of office furniture and plenty of input from employees.

Employee consultation

The first crucial stage in the transformation process is to consult your employees. Engaging them at this early point gives them a sense of ownership at the very start, which can alleviate fear of change and make the transition easier.

You also need employee input to find out what your new workspace needs to offer. Even a simple survey can yield a huge amount of valuable data about what is working and not working in your current space. It can tell you what staff members would put on their wishlist, what would help them to be happier and more productive, and crucially - how your employees actually work. You can identify trends and start to build a vision for what your new office will look like.

Crucial questions to be asking at this stage relate to personal space, the need for privacy and quiet, productivity and comfort (including light levels and temperature control).

Ongoing engagement

As you move into the design process, where you start to create and realise a vision for the new office space, it’s important to keep your employees engaged in the project. It is well worth setting up a committee made up of staff at all levels, including diversity in age, background and position, and schedule in regular meetings to update and feedback on how the project is going. Using the feedback from these sessions, you can match and align what your employees want with the goals for the organisation. There’s no point investing in a major project like this unless it’s actually going to work for your staff, the backbone of your company.

modular furniture


The design process

With a clear list of goals and must-haves, along with a vision for the space, you can start to work with a designer. You’ll be able to provide a detailed brief for the project, one that is backed by solid employee input and data, and not just what senior management think the workforce wants.

It’s at this stage you’ll discover the enormous variety of office furniture solutions available to you, and the flexibility of it too. Modular furniture solutions can be adjusted and adapted at any time, so the options you choose now don’t have to be absolutely perfect right away. It’s important not to be overwhelmed by the choice available, to focus on the brief and the needs of your workers when making decisions.

Another great way to engage employees at this stage is to offer options for personalisation wherever possible. If there’s a choice of colours, styles or configurations, why not give your employees the power to decide? As long as you don’t provide too many options and the choices fall in line with budget restrictions, the working committee (the cross-section of employees) can take ownership of some of these decisions and get a real sense of how the space will come together. It’ll create a feeling of excitement about the workspace too, which can make the change come as less of a shock (and more something to look forward to).

After the transformation

The work doesn’t stop once the renovation team have been in and the transformation is complete. There will inevitably be a settling in period, and possibly teething problems too. But once the dust has settled, it’s important to continue connecting with your team about their new workspace.

One good idea is to conduct the same or a similar survey to the one your employees completed at the very early stages of the project. Does the redesign meet their needs better now? What still needs improvement, and are there any areas that are under-used or working particularly well? These are all things such a survey could discover, so you can continue working in collaboration with your employees, as well as your designer and office furniture supplier, to evolve the workspace to meet your needs.

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