The problem with an open office
Collaboration is an asset for almost any employee, but there are a multitude of assignments that require none of it and even suffer for incorporating it. If you inject a measure of cacophony into the daily proceedings, you can be certain some of your star employees are going to begin seeing stars. If your attention is lost in the aggregate conversation, you lose the motivation to focus. You can’t hear yourself, let alone hear yourself think. Sometimes it’s nice to hear nothing, if not silence.
The reason for an open office
What we are beginning to see is all of this opportunity is at a cost.. A study on open-plan employees found they took more sick days. This is explained by exposure to other people and all the stress accompanying any effort to filter out the noise––or illness. It’s not all that difficult to see how one could mistake cross-pollination for bonding.
Immunology aside, regular exposure to everyone can have an opposite effect: you can get sick of them. Productivity often necessitates a little privacy.
Creating Privacy in an open office
The hope is a constructive environment won’t need a ton of construction. Building is a lot more expensive than furnishing, while even that can rack up the dollars. When you are responsible for a lot of rooms, you have to make walls. You may even have to rearrange existing assets. This is one of the reasons why open offices are more viable for cost cutters; at least, why they appear that way. An open office can reduce your cost by as much as 50% per employee.
One problem with a cubicle is that because of the high dividers, employees don’t realize the amount of noise they actually make. And because they are hardpressed to communicate over the dividers, they often don’t vocalize the complaint as they would like to.
How to optimize an open office
Mobile furniture is a great way to get everyone into a more accommodating location. The ability to achieve spontaneity in assembling a team is an effective step on the way to collaboration. We often associate leaving a team with not getting along or merely not having the wherewithal to focus in the midst of other voices. Having a plan for independent effort is essential. Whether it is sound-proofing or erecting visibility filters, you can make improvements that won’t cost you everything.
One way to integrate these inexpensive alternatives is by capitalizing on the social element. Instead of making the entire day a free-for-all, designate a period of it as one for community and bonding. Encourage everyone to eat lunch in the same location or engage in brief exercises to reduce the potential for diminishing immunological and cardiovascular returns. Instead of assigning every employee an office, render the ones you have as rotating installations. Designate an office for an individual according to their needs on a given day.
Combining open office space and privacy.
Everyone who thought is was natural for us to want more space was right. Of the virtues of open spaces, the most valuable appears to be natural light. This seems to be advantageous no matter what environment it exists in. Adding furniture to a natural light ambience allows for a human scale of comfort that is more specific to our nature than that which surrounds us. Another effective policy is enabling “seated privacy and standing publicity.”
What should I do?
Ultimately, it is up to you––whether you are designing the office or merely working in it––to reach a compromise than suits as many as possible. The terms will almost always be particular to the needs of the unique group of individuals who almost certainly would prefer to collaborate as much as they also need to be apart in moderation.
Special thanks to Vivian Ramirez, of Clark Architecture + Design for giving her time and expertise in helping us prepare this article.