Many organisations are considering shifting to an open plan office, if they haven’t already. There are many reasons behind this trend. They include to cut down the costs of office space, to improve employee productivity, to increase collaboration and innovation, and to improve communication.
I read an interesting article by Leonid Bershidsky in the Western Australian on 6th July. The article was referring to two researchers from Harvard University, Ethan Bernstein and Stephan Turban. The research looked at the impact of open-plan offices on workers and found that there has been a big shift to open plan offices as a way of creating collaboration, innovation and creativity. The reality is that in a lot of cases, the shift has been driven more by economics and cost cutting than collaboration.
What was interesting in this research was the reduction in face to face communication when people moved into the open plan offices. According to the data, a move to open plan office resulted in a decrease in face to face communication. This is the very reason management suggests that open plan offices are good – to increase communication and collaboration.
The researchers found that amazingly, as organisations moved to open plan offices, face to face communication went down, email communication went up by 56% and there was a 67% increase in instant messages.
Given that open plan offices still main flavour of the moment and they are a continuing trend, what are some ways that we can improve peoples experience and communication within the open plan environment. Here are some suggestions to help make open plan offices work for you.
How do you make open plan office work for you?
What has become clear in the research is that workers are over stimulated in the open plan office because of noise, distractions and constant interruptions with people moving around. The reality is that open-plan offices are here to stay, so how do we make them work?
- Self-awareness – I believe that the key to working in an open plan office is great self-awareness. Our teams need to have the ability to be reflective and self-aware of how they are impacting on others around them.
- Planning and discipline – We need to be more planned and disciplined in our approach. This doesn’t mean we stop talking face to face with people. An open plan office is not an excuse for poor communication where we flick our colleague’s messages or emails.
- Encourage innovation – Lead your team to work on innovative and creative projects that requires collaboration. This will push them to use the open plan office layout to their advantage, helping them finish the project ahead of the assigned deadline.
- Employ rules – To better guide your team on how to behave around their co-workers in an open plan office, you might want to consider employing rules such as minimize noise so as not to distract others.
- Speak to the people next to you – Get on your feet and walk to another part of the room to speak with the person you wish to communicate with. Bounce ideas of them and ask questions. Save the email for when the discussion has reached some clarity and you need the email for a record or trail of a decision or idea.
Open plan offices are about taking ownership, being self aware and being proactive. Learn more about how to communicate effectively in an open plan office at the upcoming workshop on Communication Etiquette in an Open Plan Office on 4 September.