Fixing the open office

Office

The trouble with open offices, and how you can manage them better

Writing about the downsides of the open office layout is trendy. Once you separate out personal taste, there are some legitimate concerns about the future of office design. Are all collaborative floor plans so bad? Or are there just parts we haven’t gotten right yet?

HBR recently aggregated workplace studies to find that amount of space is by far the biggest factor in office enjoyment. It represented more than the next two factors (noise level and furnishing) combined.

HBR workplace productivity and happiness factors

Get the most out of your space, because statistically it’s a good thing for employee happiness. Open floor plans sound like they match this philosophy perfectly. Unfortunately, most companies organize their open floor plans in ways that make sprawling space feel cramped.

Don’t put desks in high traffic areas of open offices

The long stretches of tables and the lack of clear desk boundaries blurs your personal space with neighbors. People with their backs to high traffic areas are constantly on edge as passing conversations interrupt their thought process. There are better ways to lay out your floor plan.

Have a system in place for showing available space

Meeting room availability indicators

The amount of space you have available is partially a perception problem. Narrow corridors and overbooked meeting rooms all lead to a feeling of office claustrophobia. Interestingly enough, visual privacy is less of a concern. This makes sense when you realize that enough space in an office negates the need for closed doors in order to feel “alone.”

Fortunately, making space easily available is a matter of setting up visible reservation systems on Google Calendar, Office 365, or other meeting room scheduling systems.

Dedicate space in your open office layout for deep focus

Headphones are not a substitute for private space.

When work space doesn’t feel available, focus is even harder to come by. Ability to grab a secluded area of the office comes from strong company coordination instead of square footage. As companies grow, many don’t have the tools or culture needed to manage their own space scheduling.

What does this mean for the future of office design? Common spaces for work should have balance with places for privacy. Is there a place in your office that people can go to focus away from everyone else? It doesn’t have to be a room, and we’re starting to see more office furniture designed with seclusion in mind. When people need a change of scenery as well as a private, quiet work area, they may grab a break out space. Adding these spaces to your rooms available for scheduling can encourage people to set aside time to knock out tasks that require added concentration.

Give people a reason to work in your office

When the office stops being the best place to do work, you’ll notice from an increase in remote work to compensate. Today, nearly 10% of people work from home at least one day per week. Remote work is on the rise, and offices have an opportunity to become hubs for flexible schedules.

If you plan your open office layout well, people will feel comfortable in their space, be more productive, and get satisfaction from what they accomplished by the end of the day. Providing opportunity for conversation and working collaboratively is a key feature of an open office. Finding the right balance gives people a reason to feel good about coming to work each day.