Though cubicles used to be all the rage in office environments, these days, a large number of companies are opting for the open-concept plan instead. As the name implies, with an open-office plan, employees sit in rows or circles of desks without walls or barriers between them.
The idea behind the open-office plan is simple: It's meant to foster collaboration and easy communication, all the while encouraging employees to work as a team rather than feel closed off from one another. In fact, 80% of U.S. companies have open offices. But while the idea is a good one in theory, it doesn't tend to work out so well in practice.
The problem with open-office plans
In a study by Harvard Business School and Harvard University, face-to-face interaction among workers whose offices adopted open-floor plans actually decreased by 70%. Furthermore, open-floor plans have been associated with lower levels of employee concentration and higher levels of stress.
And it makes sense. It's hard to focus on key tasks when there's a person in your face every time you look up. It's also easy to get stressed when you're trying to concentrate on what you're doing but can't get your thoughts straight when the folks around you are busy talking.
And then there's the basic notion of having too much stimulation. Children tend to melt down in busy theme parks when they struggle to process everything that's going on around them. Well, the same holds true for employees who are supposed to get their jobs done, all the while adhering to the social pressures that come with working in an open, shared space.
If your company is considering an open-floor plan, or already has one, it may be time to take a step back and see if it's really beneficial to your workers -- because chances are, it isn't.
Bring back the cubicles?
Though being trapped in a cubicle may not be ideal for some workers, there are plenty who simply don't do well in an open environment, and the reason often boils down to the distraction factor. It's said that interruptions at work account for a 15% to 28% decline in productivity, which not only hurts your employees, but also your bottom line. Working in a shared space can also lead to shared germs, thereby resulting in more sick time and -- you guessed it -- less output.
The solution? It might involve putting up some walls. While offering each and every one of your employees an office with a door may not be feasible logistically or financially, you might consider the merits of adopting a cubicle setup, all the while maintaining open spaces and meeting rooms that teams can utilize to collaborate and interact as needed. This way, your employees get the best of both worlds -- the opportunity to shut one another out but also work together with ease.
If you're not looking to reconstruct your office, there are ways to make the open plan model work better. For one thing, allow employees to reserve closed-off meeting rooms on an as-needed basis. For example, if you have a marketing associate with a big presentation coming up, allow that person to sneak into a conference room the morning it's due for a practice run.
Similarly, consider offering closed-door offices to workers whose roles, by nature, require a greater amount of concentration. Writers and editors in particular tend to need a quieter environment to avoid mistakes.
Finally, adopt a partial work-from-home policy so that your employees can get a break from the bustle of an open office space at least once or twice a week. They'll still get the face-to-face interaction an open plan is meant to encourage, but they'll also have an opportunity to escape the distractions that might be hindering their efforts to perform well.
Though the open office plan certainly has its benefits, it may not be the right fit for your company. And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can take steps to change your setup for the better.