Hot desks go cold: rethinking open offices

Open-plan office spaces have rapidly increased in popularity over the last few years. Nine out of 10 offices use an open floor plan, according to a Stockholm University study - although anyone who’s ventured into corporate Australia over the last decade wouldn’t need research to be convinced.

Still, not everyone thinks open plan is great. A recent report on workplace satisfaction showed they can be disruptive for employees and may even have a negative impact on workplace productivity.

Does this mean that open plan offices are not worthwhile? I would argue no.

Open-plan office spaces make it easier for employees to interact with each other, strengthening relationships and allowing for more effective teamwork to take place. 

“[Open-plan offices] can be disruptive and may even have a negative impact on workplace productivity.” - Dominique Lyone

A study of collaboration and concentration in open plan offices found there is relatively little dispute open plan workspaces can enhance collaboration.

If you are looking at increasing collaboration in the workplace then a strategically designed open-plan office is still one of the best ways to go about it.                                                                                

So how do you make an open planned office work cohesively and limit the disadvantages the design can sometimes have?

From our experience at Working Spaces, we’ve identified several areas where businesses can work on making the most out of their open plan design.

Rethinking open offices

• Screening

Privacy in the workplace does not require the construction of large walls to separate the office. Instead, businesses can choose to use smaller, strategically placed acoustic screens to give employees a space of their own.

Screens have come a long way in the past few years. Not only has the quality of the screens improved significantly but screens are now available in a variety of sizes and colours so businesses can select a screen which suits their acoustic, ergonomic and visual needs.

• Flexible work spaces

It is important to provide a range of different working spaces for employees which suit the task at hand.

This is because there are different requirements for different jobs. A designer might require more space for a second monitor, whereas a sales employee can get away with something more minimal.

Additionally, some employees might want to work in an area away from their desk. These can come in many forms, such as quiet workspaces which provide employees with a dedicated quiet area to focus on projects, or to handle extended phone calls.

By taking careful consideration with furniture and equipment selection, collaborative spaces can be a great way to bring staff members together to work effectively and increase productivity.

For example, introduce informal meeting areas where people can have a quick huddle or brainstorm.

Businesses can also incorporate workspaces tailored to each employee. Workstations for staff are not one-size-fits all. It’s important for businesses to consider the specific needs of each function / department when fitting out the office.

One way of doing this could be by providing employees with sit-to-stand desks in their workspaces, which allow them to customise their space so they are not seated at their desk for hours at a time.

• Noise proofing

When designing an open plan office space, be sure to incorporate all aspects of noise proofing, whether that be flooring and ceiling finishes, furniture or layout.

Polished concrete floors in an open plan may give your office an edgy industrial look but they can also increase workplace noise.

The same can be said for surfaces made of natural wood or ceramic. Instead, the space could incorporate carpet or vinyl flooring. Both of these surfaces absorb sound to a much greater effect than others.

• Engage employees on office design

As mentioned previously, it’s important to provide a space which fits an employee’s specific needs. So why not get them involved?

When redesigning or refitting your office, take the time to consult with your workers on what works best for them and what’s needed for your workplace to be productive and use that as the key focus for your office.

For instance, if they are looking for a space where they can work quietly, you should work on providing it for them.

Not only will this be beneficial in providing a tailored space,it will also show your employees you genuinely care for their opinion - which can go a long way in employee satisfaction.

While open plan office spaces do present a risk of noise and disruption among the workforce, careful consideration towards the design of the space as well as options for your employees can go a long way in keeping workplace productivity and employee satisfaction up.

Dominique Lyone is Managing Director at COS Working Spaces

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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