Employees are people too, and disregarding this simple fact when planning your office can have repercussions down the line.
You know what we are talking about.
Open offices have been around for a long, long time, but it is only recently that they have gained some serious traction and become the layout for choice for many companies.
This is partly the fault of the trends set by the hipster companies of the Silicon Valley, and partly due to the cost savings and the purported increase in employee collaboration that results from them.
Whatever the reason, the world is inundated with open offices and has only now begun realizing that they might not be that great an idea after all.
Who knew that packing a large number of diverse individuals in an open space without privacy is not conducive to productivity? Go figure.
But it is not all gloom and despair on the horizon. With some tweaks and adjustments, you can reinvent that open office from your employee’s dreaded nemesis to a hub of productivity and collaboration, where people actually enjoy working.
Let’s find out.
Building Open Offices: A Primer on What to Avoid
If you are still in the act of considering open offices and haven’t made the deal with the devil, there may yet be hope for you.
Jokes aside, creating – or renovating – your office is a serious business.
A good office layout can be the difference between a disgruntled, unproductive workforce and one that is positive and motivated.
Do you want the short version?
Don’t do open offices. Not unless you know what you are doing.
To elaborate, there is a multitude of factors that affect how you should build your office. Your workforce demographics play a big role – young employees generally favor more ‘experimental’ layouts.
The nature of work is also important – your marketing team likely has different needs than your engineers.
And last but not least, your budget determines what you can do (if you are a fresh startup, open offices might be the only thing that works for you).
Working with an Open Office
For those of you who have already taken the plunge, tips on building a good office layout hardly help, unless you are planning to tear down the whole thing and rebuild it (or renovating it).
But there is a lot that you can do even when constrained by the layout to make life a little easier for your employees.
Let us look into some easy tips that can make your shared workspaces much more vibrant.
Plants are Your Best Friends
The biggest problem with an open office concept is the lack of privacy.
No walls mean no partitions between colleagues, which means everyone is constantly encroaching and everyone else’s private space.
The thing with walls is that even virtual walls are better than none.
Simply using a lot of green covers to create illusory barriers can give a huge boost to productivity by limiting the number of distractions and giving the feeling of personal space.
Strategically placed plants give enough leeway for movement to retain the characteristic freedom of an open office, while also setting up boundaries.
That they add some color and texture to your office is a bonus.
Set Up a Musical Background
Another common complaint in collaborative offices is the noise.
The constant hum of conversation, the scraping of desks and the intermittent phone calls all around produce a constant slew of noises that make it very difficult to concentrate.
Background music, it turns out, can effectively drown out the noise, and does not negatively affect productivity.
If not all of your employees like ambient music, you can encourage the use of noise-canceling earbuds and headphones, which allow each person to cut themselves off from the surrounding cacophony to focus on their work.
Have a Communication Protocol
In the absence of clearly demarcated personal spaces, communication faux passes are quite frequent.
Hailing a colleague while they are at a sensitive juncture, talking over a teammate, accidentally disrupting an important conversation; an open office can lead to many such scenarios.
Such incidents are easily avoided by laying down some ground rules for communication.
For example, there can be a rule not to disturb a person when their earbuds are in.
Or make use of visual signs such as a simple ‘Do not disturb’ card or a fancy color-changing tech system.
The key is to clearly outline the etiquette of communicating with one’s colleagues in an open space, in a way that minimizes noise and disruption while enabling more effective collaboration.
Mark Your Territories
While a free-ranging open space is good for intermingling and easy back-and-forth of ideas, for many activities, having a dedicated area is much better.
Just because you have an open office does not mean that you must give up on the advantages of discrete workspaces.
You can (and should) designate separate areas for different tasks, such as a meeting table, a space for brainstorming, an area for ‘fun’ activities and socializing, a place to take phone calls, etc.
This gives some structure to your open office space, while not being as restrictive as physically different rooms.
Open offices, while popular, might not be the best idea for boosting productivity. It is only certain fields like marketing or design that are suited to a collaborative workspace, and even then only if done right.
That being said, there are many small steps one can undertake to improve upon their shared workspaces and dealing with issues such as the lack of privacy or the distracting atmosphere without going into a radical overhaul of the office architecture.
For at the end of the day, the most important thing is to ensure the well being and the satisfaction of your employees, not holding on to the ‘trendy’ way of building your office.
Ashley Wilson is working remotely as a content creator, writing mostly about business and tech. She has been known to reference movies in casual conversation and enjoys baking homemade treats for her husband and their two felines, Lady and Gaga. You can get in touch with Ashley via Twitter.