As business owners, we all have a lot to learn from one another. If you want to get your finger on the pulse of the small business community, check out the Succeed: Small Business Network on LinkedIn. This group of 80,000 business professionals offers a wide variety of perspectives on just about any topic you can imagine. For example, here’s a snapshot of their opinions on open office design.
- If a job involves sensitive information, an enclosed office is a necessity.
- Open plans work best for people who are in and out of the office—not those who are there the entire workday.
- Closed floor plans require workers to schedule time together, reducing interruptions during the regular workday and potentially increasing productivity during meetings.
- Phone work (from cold calling to conference calls) is difficult in an open office environment.
- An open office may help with creating a team environment for large projects. It seems to work well for strategists and creative professionals.
- High cubicles that are reconfigurable would make a reasonable substitute for private offices—especially if they could be equipped with doors.
- Open office works best when coworkers need to interact face-to-face frequently throughout the day.
- Working with too many people around is distracting. Having a few people work synergistically together in a small office is better than having a completely open room with no divisions.
There’s one point of agreement: The best configuration depends on the type of work being done.
Can You Make an Open Office Work?
Open office layouts with no private offices and no cubicles can be very challenging. In the words of one management consultant: “An open environment is just an ad hoc meeting with no agenda or deadline peppered with interruptions, phone calls and extraneous noise.” If you must make do with an open office plan, here’s what it takes to help workers stay productive.
- Encourage respectful social interactions. Lack of privacy is a big problem. When people are in each other’s business all the time, it can be an HR nightmare. Put reasonable policies and guidelines in place along with a mechanism to enforce them fairly.
- If much of the work being done requires intense concentration, there need to be rules about “quiet time”. Or, give employees the freedom to seek out a quieter temporary workspace such as an empty office or conference room without fear of being reprimanded for not being at their desk.
- Educate workers about introversion. Open office layouts unfairly penalize workers who aren’t “social butterflies”, even though excessive socializing isn’t part of the job description and actually distracts from productive work. Help employees understand that some people simply need less chit-chat to feel like part of the team.
If you’re really concerned about saving space, rethink why you want everyone in the office. Work that requires isolation might be done remotely. Consider letting some employees work from home or another location.