Open Plan Office: The Theory of Greatness has Been Debunked?

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It seems the majority of office spaces these days have ditched the cubicle farm and opted for the bright, light, airy (and often noisy), open-concept office plan. For some, the feeling of walking into an open-concept office for some can be quite exhilarating and exciting, but for others it can be completely horrific. And on the flip side, walking into a room filled with row after row of dull grey cubicles can be as nauseating to some, as it is peaceful to others. Where do you fall in the love-hate spectrum of each? Are you lucky enough to work in a space that combines the best of both worlds?

Social media feeds have been infiltrated with opinionated posts related to this topic as an interesting study has recently been published. Harvard University researchers conducted a study and found that participants who resided in the open plan office spent 72% less time interacting face to face and sent 56% more emails and 67% more instant messages.  Turns out that the once coveted notion that an open office space fosters employee interaction, collaboration and engagement has been refuted and it seems that this arrangement actually makes employees LESS collaborative and likely to communicate face to face.

So now what?

Leaders: No need for alarm if your working environment is of the open plan type and major renovations are not in the cards for you at the moment. There are a few simple things that you can do:

  1. Consider offering your employees noise-cancelling headphones as an incentive, corporate holiday gift or added to the goodie swag bag for new employees. Throw your logo on them and for a little advertising boost.
  2. Designate areas in the office that are for suitable for collaboration and conversation.
  3. Allocate space in the office that is for a quiet zone or spaces to offer employees some privacy.
  4. Consider investing in movable furniture. By utilizing furniture that is easily moved, employees can quickly create spaces for collaboration or ditch the collaborative areas, for a quieter corner.
  5. If privacy is hard to come by in your office, consider holding “walking” meetings. The benefits are two-fold…first you’ll get a decent level of privacy and second, a little bit of exercise.

Employees: No need for alarm for you either. As most offices these days are open-concept, it’s very likely you are either working in one of these now or will be in the future. Should you find yourself craving some peace, quiet or an iota of privacy, here are some things you can do:

  1. Invest in noise cancelling headphones – (see above – fingers crossed!) Headphones can double as a polite “do not disturb” indicator AND help to drown out the background noise and help you focus.
  2. Try and be tolerant of your neighbor– Next time someone around you eats chips with their mouth open or hacks a nasty cough all over, take a deep breath and practice tolerance. It is inevitable that you will get irritated at times throughout the day or week but try to be accepting and lenient because at the end of the day, as you may irritating the heck out of your neighbor too.
  3. Step away – Stepping away from your desk every now and then can help you to refocus. Not only is movement great for your body and mind but stepping away for a few minutes may also help you re-motivate and reset yourself for rest of the day.


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