Ok, let's talk about it. Open office environments are awesome, except when they are not. The realities of working in them can undermine the same positive effects they were initially intended to improve. So how can we actually create office spaces that promote collaboration and innovation?
On one hand, the advent of open office spaces is lauded as one of the greatest achievements in modern workplace equality and design. After decades of being trapped in walled offices and fabric-covered cubicles, segregated and penned in, employees were finally freed to communicate and interact on an evenly balanced plane. The hierarchical barriers had been torn down, and the people rejoiced. Huzzah!
These large spaces where co-workers work alongside each other were thought to be the next great idea for workplace productivity with increased communication and collaboration. Management loved it too as they could add more employees and desk spaces to scale quickly when needed. What could go wrong?!
Stop, Collaborate and Listen
Despite their best intentions, open offices brought about a profound lack of privacy, increased interruptions and noise. The resulting effects of which have shot to the core of employee engagement and in many cases actually hurt overall productivity. There have been all kinds of studies done on these negative effects and yet open offices persist.
For Better or Worse, Open Offices are Here to Stay
Currently, it is estimated that 70 percent of offices include an open floor plan in their layout. And the lure of open interactive spaces is so strong that it temporarily masks the loss of personal space and individual needs. The absence of privacy becomes increasingly apparent when employees can't get their work done within the cacophony of multiple conversations, calls, and continual movement. So, as the trend for open space environments continues to grow, the need for privacy moves along with it.
How Did We Get Here?
If privacy is so important, the question arises, why would we even want an open office in the first place? Like so many decisions on building design, one of the most prevalent factors is cost. An open floor plan is more cost-effective than building separate offices, installing cubicles, and maintaining a vast network of wiring, air ducts, and other amenities.
Advances in technology have eliminated many of the requirements of the traditional office environment and made it less expensive to maintain large spaces than small rooms. The increased effectiveness of WiFi has reduced the need for complex cabling to ensure every employee has access to the Internet. Mobile technology and smartphones have created a world where conversations, data sharing, and phone calls can be conducted virtually anywhere. Walls and other dividers simply disrupt signals and make these systems less efficient. So yes, you can blame your cell phone again if you want! :)
It's Not Just About the Cost Savings
Many companies are realizing that open floor plan environments, when setup properly, can have amazing positive benefits. The absence of walls invite brainstorming, networking, and can facilitate building a strong team culture within an organization. Innovation, employee productivity and even overall happiness can be significantly improved. However, these gains can be quickly lost when the workplace environment is not inspiring for staff. Modern day philosopher Jack Black once said, "you cannot manufacture inspirado", but you can certainly create an environment conducive to it.
The Secret Sauce is Here!
Creating spaces that employees WANT TO BE IN is the secret sauce. You've seen it at all the famous "work campuses" that have ping pong tables, volleyball courts, yoga, chair massages as well as free drinks and snacks. Ok, that does sound fun but we still need to get some work done around here!
So how do setup your open office to keep your employees happy while facilitating productivity and innovation?
Previously this was addressed with just conference rooms for groups to conduct meetings and host conference calls, but demand always outweighed the supply. Too often, a single employee seeking refuge from the noise would occupy a whole conference room. In the open areas the only real solution for workers was wearing headphones to combat the audible distractions of their chatty neighbors. The noise and competition for private spaces has led to employee frustration, increased stress, and sometimes even social burnout. This exhaustion undermined the very thing open offices were geared to promote, collaboration and productivity.
Activity-Based Seating to the Rescue!
A revolutionary concept referred to as "Activity-Based Seating" is gaining traction in many open offices. With this flexible approach the open work areas are segmented into three general spaces.
The first is an area dedicated to quiet work and focusing.
The second area is for low volume conversions and collaboration.
And the third is, you guessed it, a loud space for group meetings and discussions. These include conference rooms and other acoustically contained spaces, like booths and meeting pods.
Contain the Noise or Protect the Quiet?
Sometimes it is better to enclose the loudest sources with conference rooms and meeting pods, while providing a quiet library-like feel in the rest of the space. In other situations the open area can have more of a collaborative buzz with sound privacy options available.
Did someone say "TalkBox"?
Rather than reinstating the days of offices and cubicles, forward-thinking leaders are turning to privacy booths and pods to ensure people have the availability of private space. However not all booths are created equally. TalkBox booths offer an exceptional level of comfort for employees and a place of refuge in a busy open space environment.
The Experience of Being in a TalkBox
One of the things we consistently hear from our customers is how much people enjoy the experience of being in a TalkBox. It is a safe and calming space that is simply elegant in its design. With a large interior there is space to stretch your arms out and take a deep breath. And the desk is large enough for all of your devices and more. We have heard that once this amenity has been added, there is shift where employees are truly relieved and happy to have the booths available. TalkBoxes become a value-add part of the space, offering options for a diverse workforce with unique requirements and needs.
The Missing Piece is Found
We understand that the challenge of creating an open plan office that meets the social and collaboration needs of workers, while allowing personal space can be daunting. Where many other ideas have failed to fully address the issue, the implementation of TalkBox Booths is proving to be the missing piece. And all our customers rejoiced!
When in the office most of us can’t say that we are working ALL the time. Or, at the very least, that we’re using 100% of our energy and focus. Of course, there are many reasons for less than optimal productivity so let's look at the worst causes and what can be done about them!
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Peggy Shell who is the owner of Creative Alignments, a successful recruiting firm in Boulder Colorado. They have multiple TalkBoxes at their office and during the pandemic, she chose to get one for her home as well. We wanted to see how it was going.
Making even small changes can improve your levels of productivity and can have dramatic effects on business growth. Finding a better workflow can also reduce stress and prevent burnout. Ultimately, the quality of your work can improve while still leaving you time to live a well-rounded life.