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Make an Open Office Workplace Work for Your Employees

Date Published

Oct 23, 2017
5 minute read

According to The Washington Post, nearly 70% of US office workers are working in an open office environment. Open work spaces have several benefits – employee progress is easier to track, overhead costs are reduced, team collaboration becomes easier, and employees feel a shared sense of responsibility. Despite these benefits, there is a great deal of criticism surrounding the idea of open office floorplans. Critics say that productivity actually decreases due to lack of privacy and noise distractions, and they’re not wrong.

In 2011, organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He concluded that, despite open work spaces creating a symbolic sense of organizational mission, they were actually damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.

What kind of work space layout works best?

If cubicles limit engagement and open work spaces are distracting, what’s the best work environment for employees? Rather than choosing between a completely open space or an office of cubicles and conference rooms, organizations should create an environment with different spaces for different types of work. Work spaces should be designed to help employees complete their work regardless of recent design trends- unless you and your employees believe the trend will support your work. We have found that the most effective office space includes the following design elements:

  1. Bee Hive: Space for individual concentration yet close enough for passive awareness.
  2. Secrets & Solitude: Private space that is quiet in order to allow employees the opportunity to think deeply and to be alone.
  3. Collisions: Areas where people from different departments or groups can congregate and communicate. This space should be conducive for social interaction.
  4. Pow-wow Rooms: Although large conference rooms are perfect for large group gatherings, they aren’t used as often as small meeting rooms where formal and informal meetings can happen. Include a healthy mix of small or medium team rooms to your floorplan design.
  5. Shared Display: Each meeting room should have a display or whiteboard area where employees can whiteboard ideas. This increases team member engagement and retention of the discussion.
  6. One Touch ‘On’: Any technology that employees use to connect to each other or customers should be easy to use. The more steps required, the less likely people are to use the technology.
  7. Align Culture: Create your space to fit your existing culture or simultaneously align intended culture to intended design.

Employees are most productive and most engaged when they’re able to choose an environment that works best for them. Additional research in the Steelcase Global Report “Engagement and the Global Workplace” indicates that the most engaged employees can choose where to work within the office based on the task they are doing.

Personal Space In Open Work Spaces

While it’s important to maintain a dynamic workspace with different spaces, research also shows that people still want a personal space at work. Employees who have a personal workspace are 1.4 times more likely to be engaged at work. Personal space doesn’t necessarily mean a cubicle or private office, it can be as simple as a locker or chair – any space that feels like a “home base” to employees.

If you want productive and engaged employees, look beyond a cubicle-filled office or a completely open workspace. Don’t automatically seek out the latest trend in the marketplace. Instead, think about what your employees need to complete their work efficiently and to the best of their ability. Create an environment that contains a variety of workspaces, and let employees choose where they want to work. Just make sure they have a “home base” they can call their own.

Want to learn more about creating an office space that works for your employees? Contact one of our workplace experts.