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Open Office Concepts: Are They In or Out?

Posted on March 31, 2019
Samantha AllisonWritten by Samantha Allison | Email author

Beginning in the early 2000s, open office concepts were the design trend that hit office spaces nationwide. They hit the scene because executives saw them as the perfect place for productivity, collaboration, engagement and to top it off, a way to save money. It seems, this trend may be in need of a makeover.

Many companies want to do their best to stay on top of workplace trends, and the open office concept seemed to meet those desires. But over the last few years, companies are starting to see the downside to open office concepts and are looking for new ways to revamp these spaces.

Here are some reasons companies are reconsidering the open office concept:

  • Noise– In an open workspace, noise tends to carry and chatter during the day is normal. Employees speak to each other about work or their day, collaborate on a project, etc. Because of that, it can make it harder for employees around the chatter to focus on their work. Studies have shown the noise from open office space forces more employees to put headphones on and tune out their surroundings. Thus, negating the point for collaboration and teamwork.
  • Less Productivity and Collaboration- Trying to tune out the noise, even with headphones can be a distraction. Because of the noise, people who need to concentrate without the chatter around them, are more prone to make mistakes and/or fail to accomplish everything they planned for the day. A July study last year by Harvard University’s Business School found that “open offices tend to be “overstimulating”. Too many people mean too much information, too many distractions, too many people walking around—all of which “appears to have the reverse outcome of reducing rather than increasing productive interaction.”
  • Lack of privacy– Not every job requires absolute privacy but in certain situations, the job calls for it. And when companies are in an open environment, it’s hard to handle private business, thus taking a hit on an employee’s productivity for the day. Sometimes when employees feel they don’t have the privacy to do their work, they will take it home with them and work from home, again negating the idea that open office spaces to create a more engaging, collaborative, work environment.

The open office concept idea was initially a great one. Architects and executives fawned over this idea but now, they see it might not be the perfect fit for their organization. But the cost to move spaces all over again or to redesign a whole office can come with a hefty price tag. Your best bet to finding a balance is to tweak the formula for open office concepts so employees can flourish in the workplace.

Here are a few ways to put a twist on your open office concept:

  • Work Zones- Although spaces with work zones are ultimately still open offices, this concept is a way of putting a twist on the open office concept. This design is set up to fit your needs at any time. It becomes an office space where there is no assigned seating, so employees can be flexible, move about and work in the “zone” best fit for them on that day. A Gensler workplace survey revealed innovation increases when employees can control their own space and have access to a variety of work environments—private, semi-private and open-plan. What used to be out of bounds is out-of-the-box encouraged today.
  • Phone Booths – Think of a phone booth as a small temporary office. Phone booths are the “Ying to the Yang” of open office environments. This type of space allows for serious conversations or work requiring immense focus. The Phone Booth concept is an interesting one, because they not permanent. It does not require an architect to come in and redesign your space. Phone Booths are designed so you can wheel them in and out of your space or wherever is most convenient in the space companies have to work with. They come with outlets, USB plugs, and range anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to $10,000 apiece.
  • Partitions/Privacy screens – A simple temporary wall can help make an open office feel like there is a lot less noise and commotion going on in the office. Breaking up the space with a simple screen can cut the noise and take away distractions that could potentially be bothersome to employees. These partitions can range anywhere from a simple folding screen, to glass walls and doors.
  • Huddle Rooms- Huddle rooms are small offices/rooms where your employees can go to work on a project or task with little to no interruption. They can be an unused conference rooms or open offices. They do not require any redesign, and they provide a quiet and private space for your employees when they need time to focus.
  • Desk Sharing- The shared desk concept allows employees to have a cubicle when they are in the office, but also gives employees the opportunity to work from home. It brings employees into the workplace, allows them to get their work done, and interact with team members when need be, but also gives them the flexibility to work from home. Around 30% of employees are typically out of the office on any given day for various reasons such as vacations, business trips, sick days, etc. according to Fortune magazine. These vacancies make it easier for organizations to offer shared desking (workers sit where they want) or hoteling (renting desk space to non-employees). As an added bonus, flexibility leads to higher employee gratification and lower turnover.
  • Remote Work- Over the last decade, technology has allowed the workplace to expand its reach. Because of this, the office may not be a place where employees come to get serious, productive work done. Thus, potentially negating a need to makeover the open office concept. An article by Entrepreneur.com states, “a remote work environment enables employers to recruit and employ team members from anywhere and gives those employees the flexibility to work from where they already are.” If employees can work anywhere, and the company can trust its employees, the open office concept may still work for them maybe with very minor adjustments.

There is no such thing as a perfect office space. Companies should do the best they can to create a space where employees can get the job done and feel comfortable doing it. Open office concepts don’t need to be completely thrown out. A tweak here and there may make a huge difference in a company’s productivity, overall happiness, and still allow them to keep up with the trends.

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