A reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article via NewsLauncher.
Open office plans have become all the rage in many companies today, especially in the high tech industry. Google, Yahoo, eBay, and Facebook are all strong adherents of open office plans. In fact, 3,000 Facebook engineers work in an open office environment designed by famous architect Frank Gehry.
According to the International Facility Management Association, about 70 percent of businesses in the United States now feature some component of open office design. These designs replace most private offices with large and airy spaces where employees work at desks separated by low partitions or no partitions at all.
Pros and Cons to Open Offices
There are both pros and cons to open office plans. On the positive side, they tend to encourage more interaction and teamwork among employees while generally maximizing the use of office space and lowering costs. They also make it easier for businesses to monitor employees’ activities at work, such as excessive personal phone calls or personal time spent on social media or browsing the Internet during work hours.
The biggest negative is the lack of privacy open office plans afford employees. This is especially true for employees who have worked for many years in a more traditional office environment. Some employees have complained about the increase in noise and other distractions they have had to deal with while working in an open office environment.
“The debate over the open office plan is a hot one—people either love it or hate it,” says Mark Benhar, the president of Benhar Office Interiors, the premiere Herman Miller office furniture dealer in New York City. “The layout and unique mix of spaces in an open office plan can have a huge impact on a company’s creativity, innovation, and collaboration. However, it is also challenging for some people who prefer or need more privacy to do their work effectively.”
Taking Advantage of an Open Office Plan
Benhar says that the key to implementing a successful open office plan is to make sure employees see the value of such a plan and understand how to take advantage of the unique aspects of open office plans to be as productive as possible. He offers the following four tips for open office plan success:
1. Talk openly with your employees about the benefits of an open office plan. It’s likely that some employees will be resistant to an open office plan. Be prepared to respond to their concerns and objections by pointing out how such a plan can benefit not only them, but the company as a whole.
Benhar tells his clients to shift away from using the term “my office” and instead to say “my workplace” to underscore the freedom an open office plan brings. “Thinking about the office environment as a collective place where people work together, rather than a solo office where people work alone, will help shift the thinking toward the open office space and how people work in it.”
2. Make sure employees can get privacy when they really need it. There’s no question that certain jobs require a degree of privacy and quiet for employees, or that all employees need some quiet and privacy from time to time. Therefore, it’s critical that you institute plans so all employees have access to quiet spaces when they’re needed.
Benhar says that most open office plans include rooms or offices with doors that employees can use when they need privacy and quiet, whether for phone calls or just to concentrate on an important project. “Make sure employees know that it’s OK for them to use these areas,” he says. “Don’t create a culture where people are suspicious of others who take phone calls or work in a private space.”
3. Be sensitive to generational differences with regard to open office plans. In general, younger employees like Millennials and Gen Xers tend to be more receptive to working in an open office environment than older employees like Baby Boomers. But Benhar cautions against generalizing too much in this regard.
“Not every Millennial wants to work with headphones, and not all Baby Boomers want a glass office with a door where no one can bother them,” he says. “Talking to employees is the best way to understand their workplace expectations and address their individual needs and concerns.”
4. Listen to your employees and be willing to adapt if necessary. One thing is certain when it comes to open office design: Every employee will have an opinion about it, and most will want to voice their opinion. Therefore, you should be willing to listen to what they think and make subtle changes to the design in order to accommodate employees’ wishes whenever possible.
“Listen and discuss with your employees the best workspace solutions based on your company’s culture your employees’ thoughts and feelings about the workspace,” says Benhar. “This will help you create a workspace where employees feel comfortable and that will have a positive impact on employee productivity and morale.”
Your Workspace and Your Culture
Every company’s culture is unique, Benhar adds, which makes it critical to have open and frank discussions with your employees about the design and structure of your workspace.
“Importantly, you should talk to your employees about how your workspace is a reflection of your corporate culture,” he says. “This is the best way to ensure that everyone understands your vision not only for the business, but for your office workspace as well.”