5 things to consider about open plan offices

Unposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project..jpeg

Open plan is the new buzz word, right?

Everyone loves it.

It’s all about collaboration and communication and cooperation and conversation…the list goes on. Isn’t it?While these things are essential to supporting businesses with their primary objective, what business is really about is getting things done.

And does open plan support that?

The short answer is really ‘no’.

So here are a list of 5 things that we have identified that are fundamentally wrong with a totally open plan environment.

NON-BUSINESS RELATED DISTRACTIONS

This is really the biggest killer as it is totally unrelated to the work the staff, your most important asset, are doing.

Example: someone comes back from a lunch break and proceeds to tell his team about the wonderful restaurant he went to.

Other teams prick up their ears and casually join in the conversation…during prime focus time!

Then suddenly your most important asset of all is delivering a return on investment of…. zero.

I can already hear the argument that staff should be allowed to socialise…but during prime work time?

That’s why we advocate generous breaks every 2-3 hours and amazing breakout areas distinct from work spaces.

BUSIENSS RELATED DISTRACTIONS

Office workers talking about guidelines to project.jpeg

“Oh cool, you’re talking about the new office? You know what they have at my brother’s work…”

This occurs when staff members start communicating about a particular business issue they have that piques the interest of other unrelated staff members.

Before too long we have members of each of the finance, sales, production, marketing and management teams debating an issue that really has no relevance to each of their disciplines.

The argument might be, is this a bad thing?

Whilst not as blatant as the earlier type of distraction, it is easily as responsible for putting people off task.

The answer to this issue is to create separate areas where staff are encouraged to collaborate and communicate, or provide staff with noise cancelling headphones…(tongue in cheek).

CONFIDENTIALITY

This is always a significant one for professional companies, who speak confientially to their clients. But there is an element of confidentiality to all businesses.

Contentious issues such as HR and business strategy are not the topics for an open plan environment.

Hence it is essential to at least provide quiet rooms and meeting rooms where such issues can be discussed.

CONFLICT

team of successful business people having a meeting in executive sunlit office.jpeg

“Isn’t what I’m saying obvious? I don’t think anyone would agree with you.”

As mentioned before, you are dealing with people.

And people have personalities.

Of which all are different.

A totally open work environment lends itself to allow the more assertive staff members to dominate the general conversation in the space (which essentially shouldn’t happen anyway).

This can make a less confident staff member feel somewhat intimidated, either to not say anything at all, or perhaps even worse, to join in with a distracting conversation.

INSECURITY

Business man having concerns about work.jpeg

“If only I could get a bit of peace and quiet I might get some work done!”

The thought of having 50 people in your immediate vicinity while you are trying to concentrate on your work would no doubt daunt many.

For oneself that is not an issue, but I could understand it if a percentage of staff members felt insecure, which could lead to a decline in overall productivity.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

The answer lies in carefully analysing the needs of each staff member and team, as well as getting a greater understanding of the cultural and non-tangible needs of the business.

From there, a skilful design team will be able to produce an office space solution that actually fits the needs of the organisation that inhabits it.

I am no advocate for reverting to the old-style cubicle farms or even worse, individual offices.

The answer lies in creating zones of space for different personalities, different teams, different activities.

In a word, the answer lies in a tailored form of agile working.