Open Plan Offices vs. Closed Plan Offices

closed office plan with acoustic treatment for speech privacy

Though there are many distractions in the workplace, one of the most commonly noted is noise. Excessive background noise from coworkers typing, chatting, or talking on the phone can distract others from their work, making them less productive.

To combat this issue, many offices have begun to consider speech privacy, and have looked for ways to improve speech privacy in their offices.

When we think about speech privacy in the workplace, we have to consider the two most common office plans, open plans and closed plans.

Open Plans

Open office plans are, as the name states, open and spacious. They tend to be large spaces with relatively low ceilings and minimal, if any, floor to ceiling barriers.

Open office plans have a ton of benefits. The openness encourages a greater sense of community, making employees feel more comfortable building relationships and asking coworkers for help. The lack of permanent barriers allows for easy setup and rearrangements. Additionally, one HVAC system and one lighting system can usually support the entire space, making open plans more energy efficient.

Open plans have one major flaw though, they lack speech privacy. Speech privacy allows for conversations to be contained to only those individuals involved in the conversation. This not only keeps speech confidential but also allows for an overall quieter workplace.

Speech privacy can be introduced in open plans with the right tools. Screens, or partial height barriers, should be placed between workstations. These can be specifically designed acoustics screens or regular cube dividers. The walls, ceilings, and floors of the office should be treated with sound absorbing material to diminish echo and reverberation. In particularly noisy offices, electronic sound masking systems can be installed to combat background noise.

Closed Plans

Closed plan offices are made up of multiple, individual offices with many floor to ceiling barriers.

Closed plan offices shut employees off from one another and can discourage community building within the office. These plans are more difficult to set up initially and layouts are usually permanent once installed.

While they do have some drawbacks, closed plans provide extreme speech privacy. They have floor to ceiling barriers with hallways acting as buffer zones between offices, which makes for a very quiet workspace. Because of the lack of noise, employees often focus best in closed plans. While closed plans may benefit from some sound treatment, they generally do not require as much attention as open plans do.

All businesses and office environments are unique so it’s important to find the office plan that works best for your employees. Have questions about creating speech privacy in your workplace? Let us know in the comments below!

Emily Silverman