Open plan offices are great for increasing productivity, but there have to be a few ground rules in place to minimise time wasted chatting and socialising. However, when designing an office fit out, there are simple steps to take that will give staff a viable alternative to gossiping at desks – a nicely fitted staff rest area is a relatively cheap thing to include when refurbishing and does wonders for morale as well as minimising chit chat.
No one feels side-lined
In any office, there is always someone whose work is rather more labour intensive than others, or takes more concentration. In office suites where everyone has their own room, these people can end up feeling rather isolated because no one likes to interrupt and break their flow when they are working. In a well-designed open-plan office with low partitions for privacy, there is no need to feel alone because although concentration is still easy because of the partition, everyone is still in the ebb and flow of office life and feels part of the team.
Stop the bully
If there have been occasions of bullying – and every office has at least one bully – this kind of working stops it dead in its tracks. Bullies work essentially by stealth, the odd unkind word here, the back-biting there; for this to work, there have to be secret corners in which to gossip and spread unpleasantness but in an open-plan office everything is out in the open, preventing such underhand behaviour.
Published figures vary, but people affected by bullies at work is estimated to stand at 35% of the workforce although not all of that number are being bullied at the time of the poll. This is clearly an unacceptable number, so if the only benefit of an open plan office is a reduction in this horrible situation, it would be worthwhile.
Quality of working life is better
There are many benefits to an open-plan office, of course, over and above the social ones. Air quality tends to be much better because the spaces are bigger and air conditioning works more efficiently with no walls and doors to contend with. If a room fills a whole floor, windows can be opened a crack on both sides and the room will be aired in minutes without draughts blowing everything around.
Air quality drops dramatically in an office during the course of the day, causing productivity to lessen in an equally dramatic curve. By keeping CO2 down and oxygen levels up, there is less sickness and more wellbeing. There is no need for expensive air-purifiers if the ventilation is good.
Hot-desking is trending in offices but often not popular. For businesses which must use it, running the system in an open-plan office is more easily accepted by staff because they don’t feel that any desk is ‘theirs’ – the room is the same every day, they are simply sitting in a different corner of it, so the sense of invasion of privacy doesn’t arise.
Article by Rebecca Kilburn who writes commercial premises articles for Fraser Projects.