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Finding Productivity in Open Spaces

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When it comes to office trends, the open floor plan is making quite a splash. But, in the absence of walls and doors, are companies actually gaining productivity or simply cramping it?

An article from benefitspro, Shutting the door on open office plans?, looks at all the angles of office design and dives into this split discussion with views from both sides. And despite how cut and dry this subject matter may seem, it’s actually not simple at all:

Ask anyone who’s worked in an open office and you’ll learn two things with absolute certainty: 1) it’s the best thing in the world since sliced bread; 2) it’s not.

So, what are the opposing arguments? Below is a summary of what the article states for each side of the case.

Pro-Open Floor Plan

  • Creates collaboration
  • Allows for quick exchange of ideas without the need for email or instant messenger
  • Creates spontaneous conversations with productive outcomes

Anti-Open Floor Plan

  • Hinders privacy
  • Creates unwanted distractions
  • Impedes concentration
Open floor plan office

© Flickr user jepoirrier

Undoubtedly, both sides have valid points about the successes and failures of office configurations. Yet, it would seem that the majority of U.S. companies lean in one direction. According to the article, 70% of offices in our country follow the open floor plan model. This is an astounding figure, which easily suggests that the concept does in fact work well for business. In particular, tech and startup companies, both of which thrive in such collaborative environments.

But to what extent does this percentage really reflect productive workflow?

A flood of recent academic research seems to support [the] view that open offices lead to more stress and sick days, less creativity, less concentration, less productivity, less motivation and less job satisfaction. In that light, the field is becoming more nuanced in its approach.

Could it be that the open floor plan owes much of its popularity to the undeniably attractive reduction in costs? After all, according to a 2010 real estate study, workspace has dropped nearly 75 square feet per employee and it’s still dropping. For 2015, projections suggest employees will have only about 100 square feet of office space to themselves. It wouldn’t be the first time that companies allowed short-term bottom line considerations negatively impact productivity in the long term.

Take note: if you’re not buddy buddy with your coworkers now, prepare to be next year.

Don’t fret, Robby Slaughter, a principal with AccelaWork, offers readers some advice on how to cope with open work spaces. In the article, he suggests the following:

For starters, using noise-blocking headphones or ear buds to listen to music can help, he said.

Also, flex-time and telecommuting are good solutions. If that’s not possible, Slaughter advises creating clusters of chairs in office corners or quiet spots where employees can retreat.

Also, hanging a sign asking people not to interrupt might work, though that’s something that should be used sparingly.

You may not be able to determine where your desk resides in comparison to your colleagues, but you can still have full control over your own productivity. If you’re currently in an office with an open floor plan and feel overwhelmed, utilize Slaughter’s suggestions above to help regain a sense of privacy. If you are in a more traditional floor plan and feel isolated, consider creating a common space where colleagues can go to collaborate and create. You can have the best of both worlds. Take some time to find the right balance for you and then go with it!

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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