How to Make the Best Use of Open-Plan Offices
1 Jun 2021
Open-plan offices have been around for more than a century, ever since the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Larkin Administration Building in New York opened in 1906. Today, they are the business norm, coworking environments without walls that encourage communication and collaborations between team members. However, sometimes they can have the opposite effect.
A survey by Oxford Economics found that more than 50% of respondents said open-plan offices reduced productivity and satisfaction. In a study by staffing firm Robert Half, employees blamed low productivity on their open-plan offices.
Open-plan offices are not inherently bad. They may suffer from poor design or be used in unproductive ways. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are a few ideas to help improve the effectiveness of an open office environment.
To accommodate a variety of working styles and collaboration needs, incorporate several types of work settings. Create destinations that allow for individual and group work, including open gathering spaces, breakout rooms, small tables for one-on-one meetings and flexible closed spaces.
American multinational Cisco allows employees to select the workspace most suitable for their needs. Their Connected Workspace plan encompasses individual workspaces, quiet areas and spaces for formal and informal collaborations.
Open-plan offices can only work well when people are conscientious and respect each other's privacy and minimise noise and distractions. Shared spaces can take a toll on productivity and sanity unless a few simple rules are followed to create a harmonious environment. For example:
- Just because individual workspaces don't have doors, it doesn't mean you can just rock up and chat with colleagues. They could be in the middle of something important or just eating their lunch. Either way, they probably won't welcome interruptions. So, if you see they're occupied, come back later.
- If you need to listen to music or podcasts, wear headphones.
- Don't eat foods with pungent odours or talk loudly on the phone.
- Keep your items out of colleagues' spaces and don't borrow things without permission.
- Respect privacy. Therefore, don't peer over someone's shoulder to see what they're working on.
- Don't hold meetings at your workstation.
These are an open-plan office's downfall. While having immediate access to co-workers can be advantageous, continual interruptions to talk about the weekend, planned social outings or gossip are a huge distraction. Successful open-plan offices allow employees to guard their privacy, for example, by hanging ''do not disturb'' signs at their desks and letting them access private spaces or offices.
The purpose of an open-plan layout is to encourage conversations, creativity and collaboration. And while too much noise is the enemy of productivity, so is a Trappist monk-like silence. Encourage conversations in private or communal areas as opposed to a heavy reliance on emails and instant messaging. According to one study, emails much less effective than face-to-face conversations as a communication tool.
It may take a while for you to establish your ideal working environment. Be patient. The more you are willing to experiment, the faster you'll create the perfect open-plan office that supports all your needs.
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