Solutions to the Open Plan Office Conundrum

Open plan offices can cause more issues than they solve. How do you overcome these?

Open plan offices sounded great in theory - Employee collaboration, enhanced working relationships, no barriers to communication and increased productivity.  Company bottom lines were set to soar.

However, there has been plenty of research into the impacts of open plan offices, resulting in mostly negative outcomes. Instead of increased face-to-face interaction, one research piece highlighted that it was actually email and instant messaging that increased significantly.

So, why has this been the case with open plan offices?

In many cases, open plan offices have actually been barriers to productivity.

Here are two key reasons why:

1.   Often too noisy and distracting
Open plan offices can cause staff to feel as though they are being “watched”. They can be noisy and distracting, which affects one’s ability to hold private conversations and think effectively.
Staff typically try to overcome this is putting headphones on to tune into their own zone, which combats the goals of open spaces.

2.   Adverse effect on employee well-being
Research suggests that employees in open offices are less satisfied with their workplace than those in more private offices. Uncontrollable noise and lack of privacy are the biggest sources of dissatisfaction. Even more worrying is that workers in open-plan offices had 62% more sick days than those in cellular or private offices, as germs can spread easier. With staff engagement, wellbeing and productivity key to business performance, open plan offices are typically not delivering on the brief.

Solutions to the Open Plan Conundrum

*  Incorporate greenery and nature into the workplace
Indoor plants are a simple, excellent way to reduce noise in workplaces.
Plants act as extra insulation between spaces, providing staff with some additional privacy that would not be the case otherwise.  Desktop and floorstanding planters are excellent options, and so too Vertical Gardens or Schiavello Walls to act as space dividers.

*  Create a germ-conscious workplace
Absenteeism costs Australian businesses an average of $347 per work day, so poor hygiene is something that can’t be ignored
The spread of germs is a risk in an open office space. One way to effectively combat this is to create a hygiene-focused workplace. Clean bathrooms, clean floors and fresh smelling air are absolutely vital to ensuring your employees are at reduced risk of getting sick.

*  Encourage flexible working environments
There are various ways you can implement more flexible working environments to boost staff engagement, wellbeing and productivity:
• Include a number of areas where employees can enjoy some private space.
• Make use of cubicles. Space dividers that can be placed between desks are great ways to encourage greater privacy and productivity, whilst still encouraging collaboration.
• Locate teams with similar needs together. For example, customer service can work in one section of the office as they will likely be speaking on the phone more than other departments.

By providing proactive solutions to the open office plan conundrum, you can facilitate a healthier, more productive working environment for your people.

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23rd July 2018
Charbel Coorey, Research & Innovation, Ambius Plants
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