The Best Of Both Worlds: Furniture Choices For Combination Open/Closed Offices

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The idea of an open office design is seductive--by removing walls and creating open, communal space, employees can work while feeling free to move about, collaborate, and maximize productivity in a natural fashion. This comes with an added financial incentive for business owners, too. Open office layouts have dropped the average space required in an office for each worker from 225 square feet in 2010 to an estimated 151 square feet in 2017. This means fewer operational costs for the owner.

Even though this all sounds fantastic in theory, the reality of the situation is that open offices aren't always well suited for every situation. Privacy is an issue in these environments, and productivity can be hampered when everyone has such easy access to everyone else. This makes that dual benefit of cost reduction and increased production difficult to realize.

That's why many modern offices are switching to combination designs, marked by areas of open space and secluded, more private work quarters. While this creates a unique set of furniture and design demands, the result is an office where everyone can work to their highest potential.

Creating The Open Space

In a combination open/closed office, the open space must go to great lengths to be truly social and to foster collaboration. It's not merely enough to knock down the cubicle walls and have a bunch of desks in a room--your furniture and overall setup must enhance your team's functioning when they choose to work in a group. This means accessibility and group seating is critical. It also mandates that your furniture in these spaces is the most comfortable and inviting.

To help accomplish this, you'll need to forego desks altogether and choose a mix of large and small tables instead. This allows for larger group planning while providing smaller retreats for individuals and teams. It also allows for individuals to demonstrate their accessibility by working alone at a table where access to them is easy. 

When selecting chairs, it's important to combine comfort with functionality. Some of your chairs should likely be stand-alone and without tables, allowing for individuals to observe and work in an open atmosphere without consistent distraction. Keeping these chairs loosely clustered--allowing for conversation but not persistent conversation--is a great choice. 

Closed Space Ideas

Closed spaces serve a number of important purposes in an office. Workers need a place to retreat and recharge at times. Also, quite a few people work through dense amounts of information best when their environment is free from distractions. There's also the notion of personal business on breaks/lunch to consider.

Since you won't have closed offices for every worker in a combination setup, the closed space needs to be private while remaining accessible to the entire office community. The use of smaller desks in clusters is a great way to accomplish this feel. You'll want to keep the number of desks in each space low, and utilizing modular storage and community office supplies in each room allows for efficient turnover.

That said, it's still a good idea to utilize a few traditional, solitary work spaces. While these are never permanent assigned areas for workers, a place to be alone for a period of time is a valuable commodity. Furniture in these spaces should be sparse and utilitarian--you're looking for people to use this space for their immediate needs and then move on. You don't want to make this space uncomfortable, but you'll want to focus on premium comfort in your open areas.

The key to a combination office environment is to combine the functionality that only a closed space can provide with the atmosphere and team functioning fostered in an open, comfortable workplace. By choosing the appropriate furniture with a combination office in mind, managing your space and creating an optimal work environment is much easier than with an entirely open or closed model.

Check out an office furniture store like D and R Office Works, Inc. for more inspiration.