Ah, open plan offices. They come with that mystique of being cool and quirky, like the office you’d imagine for a tech startup, or a niche creative agency. But for the many advantages they do offer – improved team collaboration, being able to fit more people in a smaller space, and saving money walls and single desks – an open plan office space still brings with it its fair share of challenges. Here are six pitfalls of an open plan office – and how you can work around them.
1. They can be noisy. While it’s great to have a laugh with your team, there may be times in the day when you really need to concentrate, whether it’s crunching numbers or focusing on solving a complex problem. To cater for these scenarios, create different zones for different work types, such as quiet zones for individual work, or collaborative zones where people are encouraged to work together. And, of course, noise-cancelling headphones can solve a lot of problems, too.
2. They can be distracting.Working in an open plan office can make it all too tempting to lean over and chat to a colleague, or ask them a question even while they’re in the middle of something. To counteract the potential for distraction (and loss of productivity), create rules for your different zones. For example, you may decide that chatting is fine in meeting and collaborative spaces, whereas private spaces should be silent. Establish the rules of engagement early on, and you’re likely to have a happier team in the longer term.
3. There’s less room for individuality.The lack of an office with its own four walls means fewer opportunities for your team members to stamp their own individuality on their surroundings. To get around this, provide pinboards or whiteboards at staff desks that they can personalise. Expressing individuality also doesn’t necessarily need to be done with the space itself: for example, give staff turns in weekly meetings to share something interesting and personal about themselves, whether it’s learning a bit more about their background, their interests or their passions outside of work.
4. One team, one temperature. We all know that employee who wears their coat on inside during midsummer – and the one who’s in summer gear even with the aircon on full blast. But in an open plan office, how do you find a happy medium? We suggest temperature control, where the office stays at a set 21 degrees to make it relatively pleasant for everyone in the team.
5. Who’s the leader?Private offices are traditionally a status symbol, and bagging that corner office is seen as the ultimate prize. Try and change perceptions about this, where the type of office someone has is more of an indication of the type of work that person does on a day to day basis. For example, a leader who needs to collaborate could be at a central meeting table in the centre of an office, while a manager who deals with confidential matters would be tucked away in an office for most of the day.
6. One size has to fit all, no matter what the personality. Some team members are sociable extroverts who love nothing more than shooting the breeze with their colleagues throughout the day. Others are introverts who like private spaces in which to wind down and decompress, or in which to work and be productive. Be mindful of the differences in personalities within your team, and encourage open and honest communication about what each person needs for a productive, satisfying work environment.
Making an open plan office work is all about recognising that people are different – and they’ll have different needs throughout their working day too, depending on what their role is. By creating different spaces, and being cognisant that not everyone is productive in the same environment, you’ll hopefully come to a place in the middle where you get the most out of your team – and the team is happy.