open office hacks to upgrade your office for less

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Open Office Hacks: Upgrading Your Workplace for Less

Everyone has seen their office manager sprint around the office making sure:

  • Each employee has the exact combination of eighty-seven cords they need to connect their laptop to their monitor to their phone to their charger to the flux capacitor  
  • All the sit-stands desks are sitting and standing 
  • The kombucha on tap is the perfect amount of fizzy 
  • Every single complaint about their open office is heard

Office managers have it tough. At the receiving end of most open office-related grievances, it can feel like there’s no way for them to dig out of the mountain of “I can’t hear myself think”, “I feel like I’m in a fishbowl”, “what do you mean I can’t take an hour and a half long call by myself in our largest conference room?” type complaints. Hearing this kind of flack from employees can make it feel like you need to completely overhaul your workplace to make it work effectively.

Luckily, that’s not true. We created a list of open office hacks that can help alleviate the top complaints around the open office experience: lack of privacy, lack of control and too much noise.

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Lack of privacy

Some companies took “open” in open office so literally, they forgot about the value of private areas. One of the top open office complaints from employees is a loss of visual privacy, according to a Herman Miller study, and 54 percent say their offices are “too distracting.” Just by listening to employees, the study found that people are 1.7 times more likely to be engaged at work if they have privacy when they need it.

Here are a few quick design ideas to combat the lack of privacy on the cheap:

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1. Space partitions

An easy way to separate workspaces in the open office is by investing in partitions – movable walls or panels work really well for this.
Shop: Circle dot partition + Flex walls

2. Desk Dividers

Desk dividers are easy to implement and help stop wandering eyes from landing on neighbors’ screens.
Shop: Green individual divider + Blue pod dividers

3. Add-on Furniture

Huddle spaces or add-on furniture pieces can act as a quick place to sync up before/after meetings or a spot to hunker down and get work done.
Shop: Huddle booth + Private chair

Lack of control

People want to be able to do what they want when they want. Take away their sense of ownership in a space they’re meant to be productive, and you’ll end up with a ton of complaints. This one is tricky though. Leesman found “ability to personalize my workplace” as a survey metric employees both desired but also found to be lacking in their office according to the World’s Best Workplaces 2018 report. Incorporating empowerment in little ways throughout the office is key to tackling this issue.

Try out these easy design tactics to reintroduce control into employees’ days: 

1. Neighborhoods

Without having to purchase new furniture, try integrating “neighborhoods” in your workplace so employees feel a sense of belonging over an area of the open office.
Check it out: ANZ’s Melbourne Office + Herman Miller’s “Locale”

2. Customizable Workstations

Workstations like these can be customized by the person using them so employees feel in control of that space when they’re working there.
Shop: Prospect Solo Space + Flex Workstation

3. Lockers and Storage Options

Lockers to stash personal belongings can give people a safe space they can consider their own. This gives employees a sense of security and control over their personal items.
Shop: Steelcase lockers + Kinnarps storage

Too much noise

Of course, the be-all-end-all of the open office complaints is the noise. Unfortunately, humans are hard-wired to listen for the sounds around them even though all we want to do is tune out chatting coworkers, gum-chewers and loud typers. In other words, we weren’t really meant for an open office layout. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be made into a great space when an office is set up to redirect, confine or dampen noise appropriately.

Here are a few easily implementable fixes to open-office noise:

1. Phone Booths

Ordering and assembling phone booths like these is easier than building out call rooms in an office. These drop-in spaces clearly indicate where loud phone calls should be taken.
Shop: Framery booth + ROOM greenery booth

2. Sound Dampeners

Whether it’s wall panels, partitions or cool circular ceiling baffles, there are a ton of open-plan office noise solutions.
Shop: EchoLine acoustic wall panels + BuzziDonut ceiling baffles

3. Ambient noise

If acoustic panels aren’t enough, drowning out sound with ambient or noise-canceling speakers and headphones can make a huge difference in sound quality in an open office.
Shop: Poly noise-canceling headphones + Sonos speakers

It’s easy for office managers to feel like they are up to their ears in complaints about the open office. Thankfully, beyond noise-canceling headphones, there are other quick hacks that can be used to cope with all the grievances. Whether it’s a matter of privacy, control or noise, there are steps that can be taken to make an open office a productive space without having to consider an office move, expansion or relocation.

Sources: Herman Miller, Leesman, CIOReview, BuzziSpace, Hightower, Varidesk, OfficeSnapshots, Amazon, Arcadia Contract, Kinnarps, Steelcase, Framery, Room, Kirei, Sonos, Poly