The latest trends in workplace design have been all about collaboration – building effective communication and fostering trust amongst employees. We brought down walls making our offices more open to allow the cross-pollination of ideas and promote that team feeling. But has this necessarily increased collaboration and productivity?
If so, then why are so many employees happier working from home or working late when everyone else goes home? Why do we find so many of them setting shop in some distant corner of the office?
The truth is, open offices – for all the lovely things they offer – can be chaotic, disruptive, and downright frustrating. While it’s great that employees don’t have to get through walls to approach colleagues, they also need to be able to concentrate on getting the actual work done. Is your office really fostering more ‘collaboration’ if everyone’s finding alternatives – headphones, work-from-home, remote corners, etc. – to escape from precisely that?
No, the answer isn’t to raise those walls and circle back to the old ways. The answer is to find the right balance. Here are some excellent ways to make sure your open office continues to stay collaborative:
1. Consider your specific workplace needs
There’s no single office layout that can serve all workplaces. More interaction may not always be a good or bad thing. The key is getting the right people interacting at the right time and with the right richness. Easier said than done, agreed.
But a good place to start is to understand your workplace and employee needs. For example, do analysts who require focused, deep work need to sit at the same table as the sales staff that need to be on calls all the time? Can you define the teams that need to be seated together to allow for impromptu collaboration? Does your office need more 2-3 people discussion rooms or more mid-sized conference rooms? Does it need more quiet closed spaces rather than all open spaces?
This understanding can help you design your workplace according to your specific workplace needs. Instead of going for the general open-plan setup, customize your office space with the proper layout it needs. Need help figuring this out? Contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide you with some expert advice.
2. Allow flexibility, give the employees more control
You’ll agree that having a ‘choice’ makes you feel more empowered and, therefore, more satisfied. Design your workplace with ample flexibility to accommodate different working styles and shifting work and collaboration needs. Give your employees different choices – closed rooms, huddle rooms, open gathering spaces, and telephone booths – so that they feel empowered with a sense of control.
Flexibility is another way to grant your employees more control. Instead of sticking with the traditional drywalls, consider movable or modular walls (Modular Walls vs Drywall) to make your workspace layout flexible. These modular walls can be assembled, disassembled, and rearranged as per changing needs.
For example, you can redesign your office with our Modular Cubicle Wall Kits. It’s simple, clean, reasonably priced, and most importantly, DIY! When a project ends, and teams get shuffled, quickly change the layout to evolve with the new seating needs. When you need to create an open exhibition or presentation space, just take the modular bits apart and stack them in a corner. You’ve got endless flexibility, and the best part is- you can even make a fun office DIY activity day out of this.
3. Divide your open office into zones
Open offices work best when divided (ironic, yes!) into different zones conducive to specific types of work. Have an adequate breakout zone where quick and unstructured collaboration can happen. Employees can peel off from the general office workspace in small groups or pairs for an impromptu meeting without disrupting the others. Printing rooms and pantries are great for organic collaboration, but they need to be adequately separated from the work desks.
On the other hand, also have quiet, cubicle-like individual spaces where focused work can happen without being bothered by the office disruptions.
Dividing your office into zones pushes employees to the right work area where they might find the right environment they require to work more fluidly along with their peers.
4. Set visual boundaries
In order to define different workspaces in an open office, you need to set up some solid visual boundaries. Besides the space definition, they also help keep visual distractions at bay. Using visual barriers works better than walls as they divide the space without blocking out the natural light – one of those beloved gifts of open plans.
Visual boundaries can be more than the dull, traditional partitions made of drywall though. Why use these barriers just as practical elements when they can also liven up your office with some color, style, and visual appeal!
One simple example is plants. Plants serve not just as the visual divider you need but also add a dynamic element to your office interiors and boost employee productivity by improving mood.
Another excellent idea is to install movable, modern office dividers. They can add an artistic element and style to the office decor, and because they’re portable, you also get that added flexibility as well. For example – this Abstract Modern Divider does an excellent job of adding that visual privacy without blocking light while simultaneously making a bold style statement. Plus, it’s a complete DIY setup that can be assembled and taken apart within minutes!
5. Be mindful of the acoustics
Unfortunately, providing acoustic privacy isn’t as simple as visual privacy, considering that sound travels through different materials at different levels. Audible distractions are one of the worst issues in open office environments. But, while it might be tricky (and almost impossible) to soundproof spaces 100%, there are ways to cut down that constant office buzz (‘Is your office buzzy or busy’) considerably.
For sound privacy, consider acoustic panels made of mineral wool, fiberglass, or foam. You can have them installed on walls or even hung from the ceiling in noise-sensitive areas. Plus, here’s another excellent way to switch up your office interiors from the gypsum walls - use acoustical partitions instead (we have ample reasons to detest those age-old drywall partitions!)
Acoustical partitions, especially the movable, reusable ones, can be a quick and temporary way to set up discrete rooms or areas for sensitive discussions. You can also use them to create quiet, concentration pods for more focused work.
Acoustical partitions are especially a boon in smaller offices where dividing the open plan into zones can be tricky. With some degree of soundproofing, you can successfully separate those noisy collaboration zones from the quiet work desks.
Even with its many shortcomings, the open plan has a lot to offer in office settings. With the right layout design and apt division, you can balance the issues of privacy disruptions to make it a truly collaborative and hyper-productive workspace.