It seems workers either love open offices or hate them. If you love them, you gush about the increased energy, collaboration, creativity and transparency that comes from impromptu conversations and lack of silos. If you hate them, you complain about decreased productivity, distractions and lack of privacy. The reality is that real estate prices are escalating, and open offices save money. That means that even if you’re not a fan, you may find yourself working in an open office at some time in your career.
Here are some tips for making the most of open offices:
Optimize your environment
Make sure to consider ventilation, lighting and soundproofing in the design of your space. Consider moveable, modular furniture that can be reconfigured to accommodate individual or collaborative work. This white paper published by Steelcase, turnstone’s parent company, addresses the importance of office flexibility.
Don’t forget to create specific areas designed for interaction and others that are distraction-free. Provide areas that are quiet zones, rooms for private telephone conversations or two person meetings, as well as areas for small and large team meetings, lunch, grabbing coffee and socializing. The workplace experts at Steelcase refer to this as creating a “palette of place.” For ideas on what these areas would look like, look at the Campfire furniture line.
By involving your employees in creating office etiquette guidelines, the team will understand why you’re using an open office layout and what you expect from it. You’ll gain specific insights into improving the office environment for them and you’ll get the team’s buy-in despite the downsides of an open office. Provide guidance on such things as if and when it is appropriate to work remotely, how to handle phone calls, when to take brainstorming out of focus zones, and how to minimize distractions. Though your team may not want or need a list of rules, creating a POV together will minimize misunderstandings down the road.
Your team also needs to pay attention to noise and their part in controlling it. Highlights from some common sense tips from LogiSon Acoustic Network, which specializes in providing sound masking solutions, are listed below:
- Use a reasonable voice level.
- Don’t hold meetings in your workspace; hold them in an area designated for meetings and open discussions.
- Find an isolated location for impromptu conversations.
- Don’t talk or yell past your immediate neighbor.
- Don’t use speaker phones.
- Turn down the volume of ringers and notifications. Use vibrate for your cell phone.
- Look before you interrupt. If someone is visibly occupied and your question can wait, return later or send a message that they can reply to at a better time.
- Nix the pencil tapping, finger drumming and humming.
- Respect the concerns of others if they complain.
- Respect others’ privacy if you overhear something personal.
Keep smells to a minimum
Be mindful that some foods have a strong odor, so dispose of food waste thoughtfully and realize that food left overnight can create quite a stink. Use perfume or cologne to a minimum because some people have allergies or simply don’t like the scent.
Adopt signals to indicate when don’t wish to be disturbed
There may be times when you are at your desk and need to concentrate. Develop a method for indicating, “Unless it’s urgent, please see me later.”
Keeping your desk neat is important in an open office, especially if you frequently welcome guests and clients to your space. Desk organizers and storage can help with keeping your desk tidy.
What it boils down to is common courtesy. Open offices work best when team members are considerate as well as collaborative.