5 Open-Office Plan Tweaks That Increase Productivity

Can employees really get their work done without the benefit of private offices? These 5 modifications can help you make an open-office workspace work for you.
November 07, 2013

The corner office with the view isn't the coveted perk it once was. In fact, it may not even be an option. That's because 70 percent of all offices in America today are open-plan workspaces, according to the International Facility Management Association.

Open-office floor plans minimize the use of private offices by eliminating barriers such as walls and doors that traditionally separated distinct functional areas. These types of floor plans are believed to promote collaboration and creativity, and tech giants such as Facebook and Google are popularizing the layout. Facebook even hired world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to design its new campus, which it claims will be the largest open-plan office in the world.

But in an office where everyone can see and hear each other, how do you make sure your employees can still be productive? The open-office plan offers enough flexibility for you to make tweaks here and there to improve your employees' comfort levels and boost productivity.

Although some of these modifications may be expensive, in the long run, they could help keep your workers happier and healthier and, as a result, more productive.

Moveable Furniture

While proponents of open-office spaces believed it promotes collaboration, this type of floor plan is mostly helpful only for extroverts who socialize more than introverts. For workers who need more privacy to do their jobs well, open-office plans can be highly distracting.

This is where moveable furniture is helpful. Desks and cabinets can be reconfigured so employees can work individually or collaboratively. A white paper published by office-design company Steelcase promotes office flexibility, saying that spaces need to be reconfigurable so employees can switch between different work modes.

Seating Alternatives

Sitting at your desk all day can literally kill you. A study from the University of Sydney found that people who sit for eight to 11 hours daily increase their chances of death by 15 percent in four years. But what can you do instead? One option is to provide areas with higher desks so employees can stand while working; yoga ball chairs, kneeling chairs or even treadmill desks can also be healthy alternatives.

These non-standard options help increase energy levels, too, eliminating the "3 o'clock slump." And according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy employees are not only more productive, but they also exhibit more long-term loyalty to the business.

Small Spaces For Thinking

There will be times when employees need to shut out the hubbub all around them in order to concentrate on a problem or strategy plan. An open-office plan can hinder the progress of this individual work.

How do you create private spaces in an open-office plan? Create a layout that offers spaces and furniture that can easily be configured into other spaces. Employers can position couches, moveable walls and desks in a way that prevents employees from seeing one another—a big distraction—while in these private spaces.

Areas That Promote Collaboration

A lot of people like working in a coffee shop because they enjoy the sea of people and comfortable furniture all around. Employers can create a similar vibe in their office to promote all kinds of interactions—socializing, brainstorming or collaborating. 

New York's miLES storefronts, a network of public shared workspaces, incorporates a coffee-shop atmosphere in its office. Employers can create a similar social area in their offices by adopting more bench-like tables— just like coffee shops do—as well as comfortable lounging areas and available coffee to invite mingling among workers.

No Assigned Seating

The ability for employees to sit wherever they want may lead to higher productivity and collaboration, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. Flexible seating arrangements enable workers to discover where they work best. For example, some people prefer sitting next to a wall while others like to be in the center of the room so they're in the middle of the action. Some may want to sit next to quiet colleagues while others want a more talkative neighbor to bounce ideas back and forth with. Employees at design consulting firm IDEO are encouraged to play musical chairs at work weekly to stay inspired and boost productivity.

Read more articles on productivity.

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