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Santa Barbara Sentinel: Back to the (Wide-Open) Future

April 05, 2013

Back to the (Wide-Open) Future

AB Design Studio, Inc.
Santa Barbara, California – Published 4/5/2013
Santa Barbara Sentinel – Commercial Corner
Back to the (Wide-Open) Future
By Austin Herlihy & Chris Parker, Contributing Columnists

Through our many showings with prospective tenants during the past several months, we’ve noticed an interesting trend in office requirements. What’s old is apparently new again as open floor plans appear to be all the rage in office space design these days.

Most tech companies and many professional service companies seem to have the same aesthetic desire in mind. The old corner office with dark wood framing and green carpet has made way for more hip digs featuring open floor plans, glass, wood floors, stainless steel and high ceilings with exposed HVAC ducting.

The concept was initially developed by forward thinking architects like Frank Duffy and Frank Lloyd Wright, who felt walls were “fascist.” In 1964, the idea was adopted by furniture maker Herman Miller who introduced the “Action Office” system as an alternative to traditional walls and cubicles. Happy Employees Make Happy Employers Flash forward 50 years and the open floor plan fad seems to have gained momentum with Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook taking the concept to the extreme. Housing more than 3,000 employees and spreading across ten acres, Facebook’s new headquarters is “the largest open floor plan in the world,” boasts founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Today, more and more tech companies of all shapes and sizes are embracing the open floor plan model, including some local startups in Santa Barbara. It’s easy to understand why.

Many believe the lack of walls and barriers encourages collaboration and a team atmosphere which can lead to a more efficient, effective workplace.

“I particularly like the fact that an open floor plan allows and encourages employees at all levels of the company to interact,” said Houston Harte, sales trainer for AppFolio in Goleta. “Our CEO and management team are not locked away in secluded offices. They are in the trenches with us promoting innovation and a healthy environment.”

Not only do open floor plans encourage collaboration, but they also allow for more light penetration. In traditional style perimeter office layout, there is less light transmission to the interior of the building and thus, less quality of life for the employees.

“The real benefit of doing an open office is the ability to maximize benefit from natural light,” Architect Clay Aurell, Principal of AB Design Studio, Inc., told us. “We find that this solution is a highly productive use of space and often promotes higher productivity. When the staff is given the rights to the windows and the view, they tend to feel more appreciated. That’s good. Good Economics Make Happy Employers Too But that’s not all. The sheer economics are not to be overlooked. An open floor plan can accommodate more people per square foot than traditional floor plans.

For example, a rule of thumb for occupancy for traditional floor plans is 3-4 people per 1,000 square feet. The occupancy nearly doubles to 6-7 people per 1,000 square feet for the open floor plan concept. Companies with 100 employees who would traditionally need 30,000 square feet are now leasing 15,000 to 20,000 square feet and seeing the savings in the bottom line.

That’s ideal from a tenancy efficiency standpoint. But from the landlord’s perspective, it can mean that more space is left available if there aren’t enough new tenants entering the market to pick up the slack. And no one wants to see high vacancy rates.

So, will the open floor plan continue to breathe new life into the staid office space of yesteryear? Or could a lack of perceived personal space and privacy ultimately slam the door shut on this trend?

Time will tell. But one thing is certain. The “open-minded” amongst us are usually in the best position for success. Maybe that Mark Zuckerberg is onto something.

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