Open plan…. man, oh man
For many years the open-plan office became the holy grail to create a great place to work. Many companies, SME’s and large ones alike, all hopped on the open-plan-office-train. But was that a smart thing? Is a modern looking office really fulfilling all the modern-day requirements? Long gone are the days of cubicles, but having an entire workforce with different activities all working in an open space may not be very conducive. One of the motivators for an open-plan office is financially driven because with this layout you maximize the use of square metres, meaning taking up less square meters.
Companies are opting for open-plan though this may not be the best option for their teams. The discussion about open offices is not new but because of the newly conducted research in the Netherlands, it’s currently a hot topic again. A topic we embrace because it raises awareness for the need of healthy work environments. So, let’s take a deep dive into open plan. Because like any discussion, the old saying still goes knowledge is power. So listen to the experts. We’ll lay out the three top concerns in open-plan offices, and how you can mitigate them.
What’s with the noise?
The first thing that people mention when talking about an open-plan office is the noise. There’s a lot going on in an office, people are on the phone, talking to each other (from social chit-chat to impromptu meetings), notifications going off or colleagues who like to whistle or sing while working. Considering it takes 23 minutes to re-focus following a noise interruption, this can be a really big issue for productivity and stress.
What you can do
With noise comes distraction and distraction is the productivity killer. Here’s what companies can do to manage noise in the office. Numero uno: activity-based working, or ABW in short, means that the office should be designed in such a way that there’s actual space allocated for different activities. Got a brainstorming session? There should be a highly sound-proof room for that. Need to make a phone call? Head to the phonebooth. It’s as simple as that. Make sure that your office also has a way for colleagues to book the rooms to keep it open for everyone. No-one likes a meeting room hoarder or a phone booth squatter.
Got a really quiet office? Try sound masking. Sound masking uses additional sounds to reduce awareness of pre-existing sounds. Who knew making the office louder actually makes it quieter? And then there are just some things that can’t be masked or made soundproof. So we recommend removing noisy equipment from open spaces like printers or loud coffee machines.
People value privacy, as they should
Open-plan offices often lack the spaces to escape. Sometimes you need privacy at work. Whether it’s for highly focused work and you need to remove yourself from distraction (or temptation), or you need to make a private phone call.
What you can do
Having areas that are dedicated to focused work is important, areas that are free from noises and consequent distractions. Create focus areas, just make sure that everyone uses these areas respectfully and ensure leaders are seen using these spaces to encourage behaviour change. And as mentioned before, the phone booths can also be used for short private conversations.
One of the great accomplishments of an open plan office is the influx of natural light and access to external views. Where once you were pining for the coveted window seat, now nearly every seat has similar advantages. However, it’s important to remember that with additional natural light spooling into the office, it brings with it the risk of glare and heat.
What you can do
Firstly ensure all windows have glare control blinds that are accessible for employees to control. Secondly, having moveable screen mounts enables employees to angle the screen to avoid glare. Thirdly, for employees who are more susceptible to the temperature variation close to windows, offer the option to trade seats with someone who prefers.
Green works for teamwork
Plants are often used in open-plan offices as a natural divider between different work areas. Plants thrive in open-plan offices because of the abundance of natural light. Incorporating plants into the office design is great for mitigating stress and improves air quality and general mood. It acts on the human biophilic tendency to connect with nature.
What’s the verdict?
The answer is the best office is one that suits your employees’ needs and their preferred ways of working and interacting. Starting with the best practices from architects & designers, and then working with your people to create a good place to work, which is a healthy place to work. Of course, people, companies, architects and designers alike are all learning and growing from new ways of working. Not sure where to start?