Open plan offices tend to be the norm for office-based work now. Designed to encourage collaboration, colleague interaction and the closer sharing of ideas, open plan layouts have been praised for bringing down the physical barriers between workers. However, for many people working in these environments, open plan offices can also bring distractions, impacting focus, concentration and ultimately productivity too.
This is especially the case for introverts, and for those who prefer to work in quieter spaces. For some, open plan spaces can be stressful, impacting morale and well-being as well as the quality of their work. And with interruptions only ever a quick chat away, the knock-on effect at an organisational level can easily become significant.
So with open plan offices here to stay, what can employers do to counteract these problems, and to actually increase productivity in open office spaces?
Create Quiet Spaces
Quiet spaces can make all the difference in open plan offices, giving staff the ability to escape the hustle and bustle of the office floor. When you need to find flow and concentration, being exposed to everything that is happening around the office can actually be detrimental to your working output. Nobody can work well with the threat of constant interruption, and this can bleed into staff morale over time if left unchecked.
Break-out rooms are a simple answer to this, giving people who need time and space to work the opportunity to find it – even within an open plan layout. Break-out rooms can also be used for meetings and more intense discussions, so these do not affect coworkers in adjacent, unrelated teams.
By managing the space more effectively, and creating closed areas within the open plan of the office, employers can benefit from the best of both worlds – the interactivity of open plan, with the privacy and seclusion for individuals or teams to get their best work done.
In a similar vein, relaxation rooms and alternative spaces can help introverted staff regain their focus and recharge their batteries. Some offices choose to have spaces specifically designed for staff to retreat and relax, whether during breaks, or just to take a few moments to regain their flow throughout the day. You might even want to consider facilities for employees to take a nap, or to play games, like pool, table football or even video games.
Some workers might enjoy using a ‘quiet room’ at work to play games on their mobile, like strategy or slot games. The best options here are slots with no wagering, where players can withdraw anything they win without having to play excessively to meet wagering requirements.
By being supportive of staff wellbeing and relaxation as part of the working experience, employers can help counteract the negative effects of stress in the workplace. By taking this holistic approach, employers can override the sometimes detrimental impact of open plan working.
Space is your friend in an open plan environment, so use it to your advantage. Packing in desks too closely together adds to stress, and can actually increase the disruptive effects that can come from staff communication. Done incorrectly, open plan offices can actually discourage face-to-face interaction in some instances, with studies showing people actually relying more on email and messenger services in the workplace to create space from colleagues and to find time to concentrate.
Think about how best to use the space available to you to foster relationships and creativity, while giving everyone enough breathing room to actually get their work done. Nobody wants a talking shop when results are what truly matter – playing the cards you’re dealt effectively, in terms of using your space to the optimum allows you to prevent these problems from taking hold in your office.
One of the key distractions and productivity killers in open plan environments is noise. While there’s little you can do to calm the overall hubbub of office life, there are some practical measures available to dampen noise, and prevent this from overwhelming staff at work.
Things like barriers, noise-absorbing materials, soft furnishings and even water features can help reduce the volume of voices and technology in a typical open plan office space. The softer the working environment, in terms of carpeting, rugs, chairs and curtains, the more of an impact this will have on noise reduction. In some cases, you could also consider offering noise cancelling headphones for staff who need to find focus amongst their colleagues, which has been shown to help productivity in some workers.
The Home Working Revolution
Since the pandemic, hybrid working has become normal, with many workplaces giving staff the opportunity to work from home for at least part of the week. This helps remove much of the day-to-day communicative work from the office space, keeping the office for the most targeted meetings and collaboration. At the same time, the flexibility of being able to work at home allows employees to find their own spaces where they can focus and work most effectively, without compelling attendance in a busy open plan space.
If your organisation doesn’t already offer hybrid working, this can be another good way to boost productivity. By combining the best bits of open plan with the quiet and flexibility afforded by work from home, employers can effectively round the productivity problems some workers can experience in open plan situations.