Open plan

Open plan
The team-oriented 'bullpen' - an example of open plan in use.
A sea of cubicles, one type of open plan.
An office landscape floor plan, another type of open plan.

Open plan is the generic term used in architectural and interior design for any floor plan which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices. The term can also refer to landscaping of housing estates, business parks, etc, in which there are no defined property boundaries such as hedges, fences or walls.

‘Work environments that are more open create more opportunities for observing and learning from those with more experience and different skills.’
- from "Offices that Work" by Franklin Becker PhD and William Sims PhD: Cornell University: International Workplace Studies Program


Popular variants

These are just a few popular types of open plan workplaces in use around the world today:
Team-oriented ‘bullpen’ – employees can see and hear each other freely, but desks are grouped into teams
High-panelled cubicles – employees can’t see other employees when seated
Low-panelled cubicles – employees can see over the panels when seated
Clusters or ‘pods’ – a group of low-panelled work stations, separated by high panels from other pods.
Virtual office - a la carte work spaces, offices and communication services.
Executive suite - subleased office space, even open, in a large professional environment or office building.


Open plan offices have existed for a long time. However, prior to the 1950s, these mostly consisted of large regular rows of desks or benches where clerks, typists, or technicians performed repetitive tasks. Such designs were rooted in the work of industrial engineers or efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford. In the 1950s, a German team named Quickborner developed office landscape which used conventional furniture, curved screens, large potted plants, and organic geometry to create work groups on large, open floors. Office landscape was quickly supplanted by office furniture companies which developed cubicles based on panel-hung or systems furniture. Many different terms (mostly derisive) have been used over time for offices using the old-style, large arrays of open cubicles including 'sea of cubicles' and 'cube farms'. Frank Lloyd Wright was the first architect to use the 'open plan' design in houses.

20th v. 21st Century

Many different companies are experimenting with designs which provide a mix of cubicles, open workstations, private offices, and group workstations. In some cases, these are not assigned to one particular individual, but are available to any employee of the company on either a reservable or "drop-in" (first come, first served) basis. Terms for this strategy include office hotelling and alternative officing[1].


A systematic survey of research upon the effects of open plan offices found frequent negative effects in some traditional workplaces: high levels of noise, stress, conflict, high blood pressure and a high staff turnover.[2][3] The noise level greatly reduces the productivity, which drops to one third relative to what it would be in quiet rooms.[4]

Which is best, open plan or otherwise?

Neither open or closed plan offices are perfect for any one situation. The ‘right balance’ is required.

  • Age profiles are essential to determining the suitability of open plan offices. Generally, the older the employee, the more privacy they prefer.
  • Most people prefer closed offices
  • Flexibility is increased when the office is open plan – as the company grows and changes, seating can grow to suit
  • Open plan costs less per capita

The correct balance is most likely to be found by employees having an open setting with part-time access to a quiet workspace. While there is a dearth of studies confirming positive impacts on productivity from open plan office designs, a recent study by the Queensland University of Technology, Australia has confirmed the adverse effects. Tom de Marco and Timothy Lister, established this as early as 1987 in their work. 'Peopleware' It remains puzzling that, typically, the degree of enclosure for a given office space is proportionate to the rank of the person occupying it, which can only partially be explained with the need of higher ranking staff to discuss confidential matters in a more private environment. Any worker expected to focus and use their brain for longer periods (immersed) would have a case for a work environment more conducive to this task than what an open plan office can provide.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • open-plan — ˈopen plan adjective open plan offices, work areas etc do not have walls dividing them into separate rooms: • Financial institutions want large, open plan floors. * * * open plan UK US /ˌəʊpənˈplæn/ adjective WORKPLACE, PROPERTY ► used to… …   Financial and business terms

  • open-plan — adjective an open plan office, house, apartment, etc. has few walls and much open space …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • open-plan — adj BrE an open plan office, school etc does not have walls dividing it into separate rooms …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • open plan — open plan, adj. a floor plan without fully enclosed spaces for distinct rooms. Cf. closed plan. [1935 40] * * * …   Universalium

  • open-plan — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ having large rooms with few or no internal dividing walls …   English terms dictionary

  • open-plan — adjective (of rooms or buildings) having large rooms with few dividing partitions • Similar to: ↑unrestricted * * * adj chiefly Brit : having or consisting of a large room that is not divided into smaller rooms or areas an open plan office * * *… …   Useful english dictionary

  • open-plan — ADJ An open plan building, office, or room has no internal walls dividing it into smaller areas. The firm s top managers share the same open plan office …   English dictionary

  • open plan — /oʊpən ˈplæn/ (say ohpuhn plan) noun 1. an building layout which is based on open planning. –adjective Also, (preposed), open plan. 2. of, relating to, or designating such a building or layout …  

  • open plan — noun : the disposition of interior space in a building (as a dwelling) without distinct or conventional barriers between areas designed for different uses * * * open plan, adj. a floor plan without fully enclosed spaces for distinct rooms. Cf.… …   Useful english dictionary

  • open-plan — UK / US adjective an open plan office, house, flat etc has few walls and a lot of open space …   English dictionary

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