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Opening up to Open-Plan Offices

By Tobi Colbert | January 19, 2018 << Back to Articles

Open-plan offices have been gaining popularity recently. An open-plan office, also known as an open-space or open-concept office, refers to an office in which the interior walls—and along with them, most private offices—are removed. In place of walls, partitions of varying heights may be installed between workspaces, or, what is becoming increasingly common, office staff work at long tables with no walls or separation from other workers whatsoever.

Additionally, in an open-space office, assigned seating usually is a thing of the past; workers may work individually or in groups wherever they want. And some offices now have what are referred to as hoteling areas, which is where a worker or guest uses a specific workspace whenever he or she is in the office, much like reserving a room in a hotel.

It is estimated that about 70 percent of U.S. offices now have low or no partition offices, which would be considered an open-plan office. While they were first introduced in Silicon Valley locations, major corporations across the country have adopted open-office concepts.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program may have encouraged the concept. Eliminating walls reduces the amount of construction materials needed to build office space, allows for larger work areas in a facility to take advantage of natural light, and can be easier to heat and cool—all of which helps to reduce energy needs and promote sustainability.

Employers like open-plan offices for a variety of reasons, such as flexible workspaces; reduced design and construction costs, allowing for significant cost savings; increased worker productivity; and enhanced staff collaboration and teamwork.

While employers like open-plan offices, and these designs help promote sustainability, how do these facilities impact cleaning? There are some very significant concerns cleaning professionals need to consider with regards to open-offices, and at the top of the list, is how to properly bid on these types of locations.

Simply bidding on the size (square footage) of an open-space office will likely not provide an accurate estimate. Instead, variables that may be more important to consider include:

  • Determining how many people use the space. An open-space facility can often accommodate many more workers in one central area, increasing cleaning workloads.
  • Assessing when the work can be performed. While some open-space offices are leaning back to traditional 9-to-5 business hours, many others allow, if not encourage, their staff to use the facility at any time. When office staff is present, it can be harder and require more time for cleaning workers to perform their tasks.
  • Factoring in the disappearance of personal office ownership. While it is not always the case, people who have an assigned office space tend to take better care of it. In a shared space situation, usually there is less concern about how it is cared for. This means that cleaning professionals will likely be called upon to increase detail cleaning levels, ensuring desks and work areas are more thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. This takes time, and time impacts cleaning costs.
  • Allocating time for enhanced cleaning. With more people using the same work areas, cleaning and sanitation become critical issues. Cleaning workers will need to spend more time sanitizing these areas, which means routine desk dusting is out and more detailed cleaning is required in every visit.
  • Planning for an increase in cleaning chemical solution usage. In most cases, costs for cleaning solutions are about 10 percent of facility service providers’ overall costs. But when more cleaning solutions, including costly chemicals such as sanitizers and disinfectants, are needed, these cost percentages will increase.

Before bidding on an open-space office, cleaning contractors should ask administrators if there are open-office protocols in place, such as leaving a workspace in as good, if not better, condition than employees found it. This can help reduce cleaning needs. Also, workers should be encouraged to bring their own computers, keyboards, and mice to the office. Not only can this save cleaning times, but taking these steps can also help reduce the spread of infections considerably.


Tobi Colbert is business development manager for the National Service Alliance (NSA), a group purchasing organization for larger building service contractors and related service businesses in the United States. She can be reached through her company website at

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