How Open Office Plans Affect Workplace Productivity
The idea of open office plans has been gaining its popularity in the recent years.
However, some people still doubt whether the open office layout can lead to employee productivity.
There are also individuals who have worked in both open office layouts and cubicles and still, they cannot decide which of the two setups is better for them.
This article will discuss how open office plans affect workplace productivity and what can be done for open office plans to fully work.
WHAT IS AN OPEN OFFICE PLAN?
Open office plan is an office layout where all the employees and office equipment do their work from a single room.
Under an open office layout, every department is usually allocated its own space and all the team members from a given department are located in the same room.
Most open office layouts are partitioned by shelves or filing cabinets.
The main concept and aim of an open office plan it to improve collaboration, workflow, and employee communications. Many companies see walls as barriers to employee productivity and that is the reason why they opt to use open office layouts.
Open office plan ideas
Once you come up with an open office plan concept, you will have endless open office layout possibilities.
You can always utilize any open office space in different ways irrespective of its size and achieve maximum productivity.
Here are a few open office plan ideas:
- Desk groups – here, you can group several desks together. This setup should allow the employees to face each other but still allow them to walk around their group. Desk groups are very effective for teams and departments because it allows the teams to communicate openly and still feel that they are separated from the other teams or departments sharing the same room.
- Reduce open-back visibility – most of the open office plans are just work desks lined against walls or placed in front of the windows to allow the workers get light that is more natural. Although this is one of the best layouts of an open office, it is good to minimize the open-back visibility. Rather than having the employees face a window or the wall, you can try to turn the desks to face into the room and that way protects the privacy of their computer screens especially when dealing with sensitive corporate data.
- Diverse spaces – when designing an open office plan, you should understand that it is not necessary for it to have the same plan in the entire office space. You can create private spaces and unique groupings to accommodate different needs. For instance, you can design booths to allow employees have private phone calls as it helps in giving the employees a break from the office monotony as well as reduce the workplace anxiety. Additionally, you can add couches in the office as it also helps in encouraging employee movement in the office, thus affecting the office ergonomics positively.
HOW OPEN OFFICE PLANS AFFECT WORKPLACE PRODUCTIVITY
Open office plans have their benefits as well as drawbacks.
This means, implementing an open office plan can either improve or hurt workplace productivity.
As a result, there have been mixed reactions from different people when it comes to the impacts of open office layouts.
So, how does open office plans affect workplace productivity?
Enhanced communication between employees
When an office does not have physical barriers, you are more likely to communicate with your fellow employees, thus improving teamwork.
Enhanced teamwork, on the other hand, boosts the collaboration with your workmates and even the top management employees. Open office plans are also the best choice for freelancers who do not like working alone from their home.
Open office plans allow such freelancers to rent shared workspaces/coworking space, thus giving them the opportunity to network and communicate with other freelancers. This is very beneficial to their wellbeing and it can improve their business through networking.
Open office plans can allow you to convert the office to different layouts on regular basis. These offices can be redesigned at any moment without large expense to the company’s budget.
Open office plans can also allow you to accommodate more employees at a short notice when a big project comes along unexpectedly.
As your company continues to grow, you can easily rearrange the open office layout to fit in more employees; whereas, other office layouts (like cubicle offices) would require you to expand the office space by looking for extra space to rent out, which can be very costly.
By far, this is the greatest benefits of open office workplace plans. When you are working together with your fellow employees in the same office, then you will be likely to share your ideas and ask for input from each other.
Although we now have many web-based tools that help with collaboration in our workplaces, person-to-person interaction is much better than these virtual tools.
This is because we are social beings and workplace productivity can benefit from interpersonal communication.
Open office plans are very effective in building relationships between the employees, which also improves productivity amongst the employees. Cubicle offices can encourage you to work in a single-minded manner, which tends to be unproductive.
Open plan offices, on the other hand, make you be more accessible and approachable. It also assists in leveling the playing field and bringing all the team members to the same level of shared information, which also improves productivity.
It eliminates barriers
Many companies are opting to use open offices because they want to eliminate the barrier between the supervisors and the employees. In open office plans, there are no separate offices for supervisors or managers, and this makes them be more approachable.
Once the physical barriers are eliminated, even the CEO can work at the same office with the junior employees, and this makes them feel respected and valued equally.
Because everyone in the office feels as the part of the same team, there is usually increased communication and innovation between the employees and the departments.
Apart from helping employees to work together and in harmony, open office plans also assist the employers in saving a considerable amount of money.
When your company is not required to construct a lot of rooms and walls, it ends up saving a significant amount of money.
Also, the company can easily construct extra workspaces in the open plan office in case it requires additional employees. In addition, open office plans are more economical when it comes to paying for heating, air conditioning, and electricity bills.
Better employee health
A study has shown that sitting down and staring at your computer all day can cause you negative health effects.
However, open office plan can be very beneficial for your health since its arrangement can encourage getting up and moving around more often.
Furthermore, open office plans allow natural sunlight from outside and it increases airflow, thus enhancing air quality.
As a result, employee alertness and focus are increased, thus improving productivity.
One of the greatest disadvantages of open office plans is the great levels of distraction. If you work in an open office, you will get to hear many conversations and other sounds (for example, mobile phone ringing) occurring around you, which are very distractive.
In addition, working in open office plans makes you start noticing the annoying habits of your fellow employees, and this can also distract you from your work.
Additionally, open office plans make you develop more innovative ways to prevent the noise from your fellow co-workers from reaching you so you remain focused and it makes you more considerate of other employees working.
If you have ever worked in a cubicle office, then you will find it hard to work in an open office since it does not offer any privacy.
Since open office plans require you to work in close quarters to someone else, you will find it hard to do some things like making private phone calls. In addition, the lack of barriers to an open office plan gives your boss the ability to monitor the employees.
Even though this is very beneficial for the boss, it can have negative effects on you, especially if you tend to feel anxious when you are closely monitored.
Mental health issues
Since open office plans come with increased distractions and lack of privacy, they tend to make employees feel stressed out.
Actually, researchers have proved that open office plans make older employees feel discriminated. This, in turn, can cause cardiac issues, anxiety and other issues related to stressful workplaces.
When such things happen, these employees quit, increasing the staff turnover rate of the company.
Moreover, open office plans make the employees feel that they need to have the ‘productivity appearance.’ As a result, these employees start to overwork themselves and they end up being burned-out and ineffective in the end. Open-back visibility, associated with open office plans is also known to cause neurological issues like vertigo.
Also, it can make you feel paranoid, especially if you are always looking over your shoulder.
Physical health issues
Since open office plans do not have walls, there is a high possibility that an employee with flu or other contagious diseases can spread their viruses or bacteria to their fellow workers.
If a significant part of the employees become sick, then the entire company’s productivity will be negatively affected, especially after a great number of their employees take sick leaves.
Yes, it is true that open office plans affect employee satisfaction and morale negatively.
Research has revealed that there is a direct correlation between reduced job satisfaction and open office plans. The research, which studied 21 employees who were moved to open office plans revealed increased stress levels, the employees were unhappy and negative coworker relations.
Six months later, the employees were still unhappy and their employee relations had not improved.
HOW TO MAKE AN OPEN OFFICE PLAN WORK
Today, many big companies such as Google, eBay, Yahoo and even Facebook have adopted the open office plans.
This is because they believe that open office layouts provide more opportunities for employee collaboration, eliminate many phone calls and emails, boost employee relationships and improve transparency.
In addition, some companies are switching to open office plans because of cost-saving benefits as well as they tend to attract millennials.
However, there are certain things that you should do if you want your open office plan to result in increased productivity and employee satisfaction. These things include:
Giving the office workers a choice
The 2016 UK Workplace survey revealed that “…there is a correlation between workers who rate their organization highly on innovation and being able to have flexibility and choice in where to work at different times throughout the day”.
The findings from surveying 1100 UK workers, pointed out if staff choose to work in the same shared workspace, they are happier than if they do not have that choice (4.1/5 compared to 3.7/5).
This suggests that any fear the management might have of their staff members disappearing to work unobserved in a private location if such space was offered is not backed-up in reality, but also that the employer, if possible, should ask the employees what kind of space they prefer to work in.
Optimizing the open office plan for positive workplace productivity
Often, there are empty workstations because the employees are spending more time in meetings, or the employees are using most of their time moving from one workstation to another or employees installing desk lamps in their workstations. All of this is an indication of poorly designed office.
When designing an open office plan and especially when buying the office furniture, you should always pay attention to both the available space and the desired productivity.
You need to address the above-mentioned issues if you want the employees to be productive.
So, the question remains – how can you optimize an open office layout?
Try these few pieces of advice:
- Do your research – conducting research is one of the best ways to determine how your current office layout affects employee productivity. You can monitor your employees for a number of days, monitor how specific areas of the office are being used and even ask the employees to monitor their personal movements. Indications for poor open office layout can include things like employees meeting in the cafeteria because there is no space in the office to meet.
- Go for efficiency – the best way to track the movement of your employees is to determine how much they walk from one place to another within the open office. It is good to keep the employees who work together or the same departments in the same place in an open office in order to boost collaboration. In addition, office equipment like the printer and fax machine should be located conveniently to allow easy accessibility for anyone who uses them.
- Allow natural light – natural light boosts employees’ morale, mood, productivity, and creativity. Therefore, it is essential, to ensure that every employee has access to natural light in the office. Gone are the days when it was believed that only the top executives should have an office with natural lighting. Design the office in a manner that will allow all your employees to access natural light and you will be surprised by the returns.
- Optimize acoustics – the biggest challenge in an open office layout is the increased noise levels. It is good to understand that noise can be a distraction to your employees and it can affect their productivity. Therefore, it is a good idea to ensure that you keep the noisier departments together and separate these departments from the quieter ones (for example, marketing from accounting department). Also, ensure that the office has sound barriers surrounding noisy office equipment. Lastly, you can install carpets, ceiling tiles, and panel systems as they help in absorbing noise.
- Be mindful of wiring – sometimes the cords and wires coming out of the landline phones and computers in the workstations can make the office to look messy and untidy. In addition, these cords can be dangerous to the employees, particularly if they crisscross the walk areas anyhow. Therefore, it is a good idea to design the office in a manner which all the wiring is centrally located to avoid making the office look untidy and posing danger to the employees.
- Create cluster pods – these are also known as cluster workstations or circular core stations and they allow an organization to maximize its floor space and still give its employees a larger work surface and the privacy they desire. This is usually a win-win for the company. When designing an open office layout, you should understand that there are various workstation design options that can allow you to use the space you have efficiently.
- Look after ergonomics – this is not only about preventing the employees from suffering from backaches or the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. You should ensure that the office has furniture that supports ergonomics as it helps in improving the employees’ mood and health, thus leading to positive productivity.
Make space for human nature
By nature, humans are territorial. Everyone believes they need their own space, from ‘my space’ in the cafeteria to personal bubbles.
At some point in time, you will need some space that feels like it has and it will give you some level of autonomy and control. While trends come and go, research has revealed that everyone needs personal space at their workplace.
A recent report released by the State of the American Workplace revealed that employees are likely to be more engaged and productive so long as they have a personal workspace.
Therefore, employees can feel somehow demotivated if they lack their own personal workspace in the organization and this needs to be addressed. In addition, employees tend to get defensive when told to move from a cubicle office to an open office.
Because of this, managers will be required to compromise if they want a successful office transition.
There are two lessons that leaders can learn from here:
- Every employee should have his or her home base, even in the case of open office plans. This can be something like a personal table, chair, shelf or even a locker.
- You should expect to face negative reactions at the moment when you tell your employees that they must move into an open office. However, good communication and clarity of the reasons for this decision can assist in reducing or eliminating their negative reactions.
Use physical space and cultural norms to create flexibility
Interestingly, company culture plays a very big role in determining the acceptable and unacceptable methods of working. Many offices have nonverbal signs that demand personal space. In private offices – it means closing the door, and in open-plan offices, it means putting on earphones.
Once you move your employees into an open office plan, are they able to move to various places that signify that they need their own personal time?
Does the office support personal phone calls or even allow private conversations with other employees? Lastly, does every employee understands and accepts these non-written rules and expectations?
Every employee knows that it is hard for an employer to satisfy fully his or her needs every time and to predict how the business’ workflow might change in the days ahead.
Every job has its work requirements, and every job requires workers who possess unique talents. If this is taken seriously, then we cannot have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution in our workplaces.
However, it is important for employers to provide different types of workspaces, ranging from booths, big group tables, comfortable chairs, both small and large meeting rooms, and even soundproof areas.
All these should be provided in order to allow the employees have the freedom to choose where they can work best.
According to research, employees who are allowed to move to various parts at their workplace are known to be more productive compared to employees who work from a single workstation.
You should focus on the following three things if you want to create flexibility in the workplace:
- Be considerate how your employees convey the ‘Do Not Disturb’ signal nonverbally.
- Allow your employees to have different workspaces and give them the freedom to adapt throughout the entire workday.
- Give your employees an option to work remotely, as well as flextime options as long as the requirements of their roles allow them to do so.
This is the most critical part when you want to make open office plan to work. It all boils down to collaboration vs. productivity.
Those who oppose open office plans have published different articles proving that open office plans have negative effects as they affect privacy and concentration. Therefore, they claim that these offices affect employees’ productivity.
However, open office plans are known to promote employee collaborations. Brainstorming and idea-creation sessions can make employees start thinking in new ways.
Some people claim that collaboration is not productive when perceived from a traditional office setup. This means that we might be forced to discover new ways to prove how collaborative environments bring business value.
The following are some things that assist you to redefine productivity:
- Engage your employees in conversations about how the company understands the idea of collaboration improving productivity in the workplace.
- Have more coaching conversations with employees who report to different supervisors to assist them in resolving their unclear expectations and priorities.
TO SUM IT UP
If open office plans are done right, they give your employees the freedom to choose how they want to work.
Also, it helps in creating a work environment where employees can develop organic brainstorming.
Open office plans can lead to positive productivity when managers put into consideration the organization’s culture, the needs of the employees, and the nature of work done by your employees.