It seems that open-plan offices has its share of haters. According to this article’s writer, offices designed with such collaboration-friendly spaces with minimal cubicle separations are, “wildly distracting places to work.” According to the International Management Facility Association, about 70 percent of U.S. employees now work in open offices. To quote from a new study by the design firm Gensler, “When focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration, neither works well.”
So how can open-spaces be more successful and less distracting? The key to making workers happy and productive is having a mix of spaces for different activities. Gensler found that workers spend more than half their time at work in deep focus and about one-fourth in collaboration, with the rest split between learning, socializing, and other tasks. Of course, office workers still spend most of the day at their desks, but when it’s time to do some hard-core collaborating or learning, moving to a different environment can help them shift gears.
Gensler’s head of workplace design, Janet Pogue, outlined her views on the best way to achieve a mix of workspaces.
Have meeting rooms or offices available for people to use for focused discussions and collaborations. Workers can focus out in the open too as long as they are away from whatever is sidetracking them.
A private or semi-private space is great for working with colleagues, especially if it’s easy for others to join in, AND, more importantly, does not distract others. Keep these spaces casual—it helps loosen people up so they can discuss ideas more freely.
Whether its classroom learning, which can take place in a meeting room, or informal learning, which can happen at someone’s desk, it’s often useful to provide employees with access to technology and other work tools for this work mode.
Encourage employees to get up and walk around. Make them walk over to the copy room, which forces them to meet others, and chat and collaborate. Also a cafeteria or break room (or basically any place with food) is always a great motivator for people to leave their chairs.