The modern office has evolved to accommodate for the different ways that individuals like to work. Many businesses have been re-evaluating their stance on open-plan offices to examine whether this type of layout is the best overall for workplace productivity. Even though for some employees this means a friendlier working environment, others find that the noise levels, constant distractions and lack of privacy affect their work performance.
The open-plan office arrangement originally came about as designers and architects tried to create a collaborative, spacious environment where the walls were literally broken down. Essentially, they hoped to inspire conversation and eradicate the office hierarchy, which previously saw business leaders locked away in their own offices.
However, many a cost-conscious corporation saw this open-plan style as a way in which to conserve office space and save money. As a result, a typical early 20th century office consisted of long rows of desks, occupied by white collar clerks doing their 9-5.
In an effort to minimise this assembly-line atmosphere, German design companies arranged office desks into various groupings, and included partitioning in an attempt to create a sense of privacy. This method was dubbed “Burolandschaft”, or “office landscaping”.
However, the office cubical as we know it was invented by Robert Propst for Herman Miller, an American furniture company. In 1964 the company began selling their “Action Office” system, which included perks such as large desk spaces, dividers and adjustable desk heights. Four years later in 1968, the Action Office was sold in separate components, which meant that companies ended up purchasing the space-saving items without investing in the aspects that provided comfort and privacy.
There are a number of ways in which the issues associated with an open-plan office environment can be mitigated, so that productivity is not affected.
Create separate spaces for different tasks: In order to minimise distractions and office noise, separate areas should be created for tasks requiring collaboration and group work. In this way, those who are concentrating at their desks can continue to do so, whilst those who need to work on a collaborative project or simply wish to socialise can gather and exchange ideas in a meeting room, lounge or specially designated area of the office.
Permit employees the use of empty meeting rooms: If an employee requires a few hours of quiet time to complete a task, then it can be helpful to grant them the use of meeting rooms or boardrooms when not in use. This takes into account the fact that everyone has a different working style – some require background noise, and others need absolute silence. By allowing workers to take their own space as needed, productivity will be boosted, since they will undoubtedly be able to focus and complete the task quicker in an environment that suits them. Furthermore, empty rooms are also a good idea when workers need to conduct lengthy phone calls, to avoid subjecting everyone else to the conversation.
Lay down the rules: Create a noise guideline for the office. Employees have different ways of indicating that they do not wish to be disturbed – for example, if they are wearing headphones. It is essential that workers know when they may or may not interrupt colleagues, barring emergencies, and what constitutes an acceptable level of noise. Some companies may find that background music can be helpful in minimising other distracting office sounds.
Open-plan offices can be great for employee collaboration, as long as certain guidelines are implemented. They can also foster employee relationships, and create a good sense of office morale. Indeed, the open-plan layout can embody what its original creators intended for it to be – a flexible space where ideas can be shared and everyone is on an equal footing, so to speak.
Instant has a great range of open-plan London office space, with separate boardrooms, employee lounges and designated work areas. This fantastic office centre in Buckingham Palace Road boasts a wonderful lobby and lounge, which takes you up to the main cafeteria and coffee bar – a perfect place for employees to chat and collaborate.
Situated in the heart of Camden Town, this fun office provides dedicated areas for collaborating and sharing ideas – from comfortable bean bag chairs to brightly-coloured boardrooms. For those who prefer working in the great outdoors, this workspace located on Great Eastern Street has a beautiful rooftop terrace, great for meeting with colleagues or clients.