One size may not fit all

Space Race

If your business has a traditional compartmentalised office floor plan and you’re feeling left behind in the wake of the trend for open plan space – don’t fret. You could get the last laugh.

Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Management senior lecturer Dr Geoff Plimmer and Master's student Esme Cleave recently took a look at the perceived benefits of open plan office environments and hot-desking and concluded that some of the promises were a little hollow.

Reduced overheads and greater collaboration are the two main reasons cited as being the impetus behind barrier-free open work places yet it seems that often, those working in these offices are not as productive or as happy as their employers would hope.

So what are some of the drawbacks of open plan workplaces and hot-desking?

• Unwanted and distracting noise

• Lack of privacy, confidentiality and personal boundaries

• Reduced storage space at individual work stations

• Lack of wall space to personalise a work station and often, enforced “clear desk” policies which are restrictive

• Compromised productivity due to being “off task” because of interruptions or disruptions

• Stimulus overload

• Greater sickness-related absences

• Not a great environment for some personality types – such as introverts

• Hot-desking creates a feeling of displacement for some workers, as does having to “compete” for available work space daily

While having a strong company or team culture could go a long way in mitigating some of these negative connotations, the fact remains that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to creating a productive and settled workplace.

It is estimated that around 70% of US offices are open plan. It is a trend that has grown around the world as commercial property developers and employers attempt to harness efficiencies, creativity and productivity on the coat tails of the likes of Google and Amazon who champion open work space.

Beside the inherent cost efficiencies, the main argument for the open workspace is that it increases collaboration. However, it’s well-documented that while colleague interaction does increase without walls and partitions, the conversations are largely not work-related.

Open plan environments may not be the best way to build a focused, productive work force and indeed, partitions and internal walls creating individual or designated team offices could in fact be more conducive to more focused and happier employees.

So, don’t panic thinking you’re behind the times if you have a conservative office layout where the management and staff have their own “cubicles”. It could be that you are actually ahead of the next curve.


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