Open plan offices: how to make them work for you and your employees

Open plan offices are often seen as a plus by bosses, but they can be problematic. Here's how to make this office layout work for everyone.

Workers in open plan offices have 70 per cent fewer physical interactions with other colleagues, according to a recent Harvard study.

This makes teams less collaborative as the majority choose to email each other than bringing the conversation face-to-face.

However, according to Instant Offices, there are several ways in which issues associated with an open plan office environment can be mitigated, so that productivity within employees is not affected.

The modern office has evolved to accommodate for the different ways that individuals like to work. Many businesses have been re-evaluating their stance on open plan offices to examine whether this type of layout is the best overall for workplace productivity.

Where does open plan come from?

The open plan office arrangement originally came about as designers and architects tried to create a collaborative, spacious environment where the walls were literally broken down. Essentially, they hoped to inspire conversation and eradicate the office hierarchy, which previously saw business leaders locked away in their own offices.

However, many a cost-conscious corporation saw this open plan style as a way in which to conserve office space and save money. As a result, a typical early 20th century office consisted of long rows of desks, occupied by white collar clerks doing their nine-to-five.

How to make open plan offices work for everyone

Some people aren’t big fans of open plan offices, but they can be flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs.

Create separate spaces for different tasks

In order to minimise distractions and office noise, separate areas should be created for tasks requiring collaboration and group work.

In this way, those who are concentrating at their desks can continue to do so, while those who need to work on a collaborative project or simply wish to socialise can gather and exchange ideas in a meeting room, lounge or specially designated area of the office.

Permit employees the use of empty meeting rooms

If an employee requires a few hours of quiet time to complete a task, then it can be helpful to grant them the use of meeting rooms or boardrooms when not in use. This takes into account the fact that everyone has a different working style – some require background noise, and others need absolute silence.

By allowing workers to take their own space as needed, productivity will be boosted, since they will undoubtedly be able to focus and complete the task quicker in an environment that suits them. Furthermore, empty rooms are also a good idea when workers need to conduct lengthy phone calls, to avoid subjecting everyone else to the conversation.

Alone in meeting room in open plan office

Lay down the rules

Create a noise guideline for the office. Employees have different ways of indicating that they do not wish to be disturbed – for example, if they are wearing headphones.

It is essential that workers know when they may or may not interrupt colleagues, barring emergencies, and what constitutes an acceptable level of noise. Some companies may find that background music can be helpful in minimising other distracting office sounds.

The benefits of open plan

Open plan offices can be great for employee collaboration, as long as certain guidelines are implemented.

They can also foster employee relationships and create a good sense of office morale. Indeed, the open plan layout can embody what its original creators intended for it to be – a flexible space where ideas can be shared and everyone is on an equal footing, so to speak.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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