An open office, a common configuration in contemporary companies, places most employees in a large, open space. For an employer, the lack of cubicles and walls means a considerable drop in equipment and construction costs. For employees, it can lead to better communication and collaboration — but only when it's well designed.
Benefits of an Open Layout
When it comes to professional collaboration, an open office has obvious benefits. An open layout removes barriers to conversation and discussion — instead of getting up and hunting down a coworker, an employee can simply call out a question whenever the mood strikes. These casual conversations can lead to useful insights and more efficient project completion.
An open office can also create a sense of community. Since your employees aren't corralled into separate cubicles, everyone can see what their colleagues are up to at all times. When this works well, it reinforces the feeling that everyone is working diligently toward the same goal, which builds camaraderie and a friendly atmosphere. This can do wonders for your corporate culture.
Downsides of an Open Office
An open configuration also has distinct downsides. Without walls, the office becomes a constant sea of movement and noise. If your workers are stressed or trying to focus, this can be distracting and frustrating. Suddenly, a colleague's loud phone conversations seem unbearably irritating, and you wonder why the people in your desk clump need to type so loudly.
The lack of privacy can also be a problem. This is particularly true when it comes to audio privacy — it's difficult to make a phone call or have a conversation with a coworker when you know that the rest of the office can hear every word. Employees can also feel like they're in a fishbowl, with every move questioned and observed.
Maximizing an Open Configuration
Fortunately, there's a way to design an open office to maximize professional collaboration and minimize stress. Start by minimizing overall office noise with audio-absorbent items: invest in thick, padded furniture, hang acoustic panels disguised as art, and lay carpet or area rugs. Then, create an enclosed space for silent work so employees can enjoy peace when they need it most. You might also consider desk alternatives, such as a large table or a lounge area with couches to encourage workers from different areas of the office to mingle and collaborate.
To make small-group collaboration easier, position relevant teams near each other. It's a given to put all of your marketing staff in one place, but you might also benefit from having product design or salespeople nearby. That way, each team can weigh in on issues from a different viewpoint, leading to a more efficient overall process.
An open office can be a polarizing issue for employers and employees. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of an open layout, you can create a configuration that minimizes distraction and encourages collaboration.
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