- Establish and communicate clear rules for workplace use.
- Consider introducing flexibility to suit employees’ workplace preferences.
- Provide areas/rooms (such as ‘concentration booths’) that ensure privacy and/or a quiet space.
- Involve employees in layout decisions where possible.
- Consider changes, such as moving desks around to change perceptions of proximity, privacy and crowding.
- Discourage relationship-straining mechanisms such as territory marking and defensive behaviours.
- Include open spaces and walls/partitions, rather than just one or the other.
- Consider furniture with castors, to facilitate easy maneuvering and change.
Since the 1970s, a growing proportion of office workers have been set up in large, open rooms with colleagues all around. But is this the best way to work for everyone?
Office-based work very often requires privacy and concentration, so why do so many companies opt for an open-plan layout? And, is there a one size-fits all solution?
Research published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has shown that rather than improve communications among colleagues, open-plan offices can lead to a reduction (70 per cent) in face-to-face interactions, with electronic interactions (i.e. emails) rising by 67 per cent.
A study in 2013 discovered that as few as one in four employees agree they work in an optimal workplace environment, and more than half reported being interrupted by others when trying to focus.
On the other hand, companies continue to adopt open plan environments, knowing how important collaboration is to overall performance. So, how to get the best of both worlds?
A question of balance
Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business, Nathan Tong, recommends company managers do their best to find the right balance by being attentive to employees’ needs.
“While some workers may enjoy working in an open space where they’re constantly surrounded by (and in full view of) their peers, others may need privacy to focus on completing their tasks,” Tong says.
“Companies should offer a variety of office space formats,” he adds. “If their goal is to have primarily open workspaces to encourage collaboration, they should build in some private or semi-private spaces, such as cubicles, that employees can use for a short period of time when they need privacy.”
Dr Rachel Morrison, Senior Research Lecturer in Management at Auckland University of Technology, agrees that bookable collaboration spaces are important within the open environment.
“Features like green walls (plants) and areas with silence norms have been found to be helpful, too,” she says.
“Panels and acoustic quietening décor can help and give people options on how and where to work, as well as the opportunity for telework, can also be good.”