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Open plan offices are having a moment. Generally more cost-effective and certainly more flexible than traditional offices, open office spaces allow workforces to expand and contract alongside the business — which is especially beneficial for smaller companies and longer-term leases. They also carry with them the perception that they generate dizzy new levels of collaboration, creativity and growth. Global organisations such as Google and Facebook are famous for their open working environments, and have invested millions of dollars in creating iconic workspaces that have replaced private cubicles with large spaces. The guiding logic behind these offices is that they prompt idea sharing, engagement and collaboration, ultimately enhancing innovation and profits.
However, although this may work for global social media juggernauts, results elsewhere have proved mixed, and the trendy new format has been heavily criticised for causing distractions, office conflicts and stress, ultimately damaging rather than improving workforce collaboration and company productivity.
So how can you make an open office work?
Research has shown that a huge contributor to the success of an open office is establishing place identity. This is a vital consideration if you are relocating or renovating from a traditional setup to an open office. Describing your vision of how the space will benefit the company to your employees ahead of time will help them engage with the identity of the space, and work towards implementing and achieving the ideals laid out.
Different types of work require different approaches, and not everybody works in the same way. The most cited and most obvious disadvantage of open offices is noise. Establish rules that manage how much noise is permitted and where. Perhaps ask employees to speak in lower tones in the main office space. Create breakout rooms for meetings, hangouts, and collaborative working – places where a few people who need to discuss something in real time and at a louder volume can jump in and bounce ideas off one another without bothering anyone else. By the same token, create silent rooms or areas for workers who require quiet at times, giving them a place to go when they need to focus and don’t want to be distracted.
A huge contributor to noise in the workplace is the physical design of the space itself. This is especially true of the kinds of large warehouses and lofts that lend themselves so perfectly to open office setups. Incorporate noise absorbing fabrics, such as carpet tiles, stacked felt and even the acoustic material used in recording studios to help absorb and deflect sound, and invest in good sound dampening solutions for your meeting and breakout rooms.
For an open space to work it should be exactly what it says on the tin — open. Packing people on top of each other will just cause stress. Make sure everyone has a good amount of space around them, and that they can move their chairs backwards without colliding with the desk behind. Even better, try and establish a layout that minimises how much people can see each other’s screens. All of this helps to build a sense of personal space and privacy even in completely open areas, ultimately contributing to focus and productivity.
This news was brought to you by Morgan Pryce, a specialist tenant acquisition agent with offices in Oxford Circus and the City. Morgan Pryce specialises in search, negotiation and project management and works exclusively for tenants.