Three Ways to Optimize an Open Office Environment

July 16, 2018


Open office environments, once considered a workplace trend, have become the norm. Today, nearly 70% of U.S. offices occupy an open environment. Supporters believe that this design enables more opportunities for collaboration, improves transparency, minimizes emails and phone calls, while also strengthening co-worker relationships. Additional benefits include cost savings and appearing more attractive to millennials for some organizations.

On the other hand, critics claim that productivity is ultimately decreased due to an increase in distractions and loss of personal space. In fact, some CEO’s think the open office trend has gone too far according to The Wall Street Journal.

Here are three ways to optimize flexible work environments.

1. Carve out home base. It’s human nature to have a need for space that feels like it’s only ours—even at work. According to Gallup’sState of the American Workplace report, employees who have a personal workspace are 1.4 times more likely to be engaged at work. ‘Personal workspace’ doesn’t mean a heavy desk or traditional office, rather there are ways to delineate space even in flexible environments. I once worked at a start-up that grew from 37 employees to nearly 200 in less than two years. Employees were constantly being moved to scale the workspace commensurate to the latest headcount. Each time I was moved, I took my Velcro-adhered nameplate and my chair with me.

Giving each employee a ‘home base,’ whether it’s a locker, table and/or chair, helps define some semblance of personal space. It’s imperative to apply Dale Carnegie’s 6th Human Relations principle, ‘Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language,’ by offering a nameplate or some recognition that says whose space it is.

2. Form a flexible remote policy. Some employees are simply more comfortable and productive when working in their home office instead of an open office environment. As long as an employee’s role permits, why not let them work off-site? Pundits concur that any weakening of relationships among employees can be easily restored by facilitating team bonding events. Some organizations allow employees a few days on-site, and a few days off. Consider what is viable and optimal for various employee teams and decide if it’s time to allow people to work remotely.

3. Shhhhhhhhhut out the noise. Many employees find it difficult to focus in an open office environment due to a deluge of distractions. Dale Carnegie said, “Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” Despite their best efforts to concentrate and create, overhearing a co-worker’s dilemma, disappointment or frustration can cause employees to lose their train of thought. Also, accidentally hearing why another colleague is stressed out could cause nearby employees to worry about the same thing.

The solution to this common challenge is to build out quiet centers in former private offices or infrequently used small conference rooms. This way, employees can escape to a respite area and resume whatever they were working on.

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