Your bosses are watch­ing you

UN­DER THE SCAN­NER An open of­fice can be both pro­duc­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive if built in­tel­li­gently. The right bal­ance of pri­vate and open spa­ces is a must

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - SHINE JOBS - Aanchal Bedi ■ [email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

The walls are down, boss is keep­ing an eye on you, col­leagues are ex­chang­ing ideas across the ta­ble and more than one pair of eyes are judg­ing your 5 pm de­par­ture from of­fice — does that sound fa­mil­iar?

To­day, many of­fices across the world fol­low the open of­fice model. Th­ese types of floor plans are be­lieved to pro­mote col­lab­o­ra­tion and cre­ativ­ity and tech gi­ants such as Face­book and Google have definitely pop­u­larised the lay­out. Face­book even hired world-renowned ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry to de­sign its new cam­pus, which it claims is the largest open-plan of­fice in the world.

How­ever, a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence sug­gests that the open of­fice un­der­mines the very things that it was de­signed to achieve.

“Col­lab­o­ra­tion has be­come the big en­gine for progress and in­no­va­tion for or­gan­i­sa­tions all over the world. Un­doubt­edly, suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion re­quires giv­ing co-work­ers easy ac­cess to each other. But it also re­quires giv­ing each in­di­vid­ual the time and place to fo­cus and recharge. Many work­places to­day are not de­liv­er­ing on pri­vacy as a ne­ces­sity. Too much in­ter­ac­tion and not enough pri­vacy have reached cri­sis pro­por­tions, tak­ing a heavy toll on work­ers’ cre­ativ­ity, pro­duc­tiv­ity, en­gage­ment and well-be­ing,” says Uli Gwinner, pres­i­dent, Steel­case, APAC.

A study by Steel­case ti­tled Pri­vacy Cri­sis re­vealed that 98% of In­dian employees feel pri­vacy is the main fac­tor ham­per­ing their pro­duc­tiv­ity. Hence, the need for pri­vacy in an open of­fice en­vi­ron­ment is cru­cial. Defin­ing pri­vacy in to­day’s sce­nario, Gwinner says, “While pri­vacy tra­di­tion­ally was thought of in acous­ti­cal, vis­ual and ter­ri­to­rial di­men­sions, or­gan­i­sa­tions to­day have to think more broadly. Pri­vacy is the abil­ity to con­trol in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal stim­uli. Employees should be em­pow­ered to con­trol what oth­ers can know about them and to man­age dis­trac­tions. It’s about es­tab­lish­ing a cul­ture which val­ues and re­spects a per­son’s need to have pri­vacy through­out the day.”

Psy­cho­log­i­cal ly, the reper­cus­sions of open of­fices are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. “Due to lack of pri­vacy, an em­ployee’s per­for­mance can go for a toss. Con­stant fear of be­ing watched and mon­i­tored can­not only make one ner­vous, but can also mod­ify his/her be­hav­iour,” says Ro­hit Ag­gar­wal, founder and CEO, Koenig So­lu­tions.

Hav­ing said that, many or­gan­i­sa­tions be­lieve that knock­ing down phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers has brought transpar- ency and in­creased com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the work­place. Open spa­ces sym­bol­ise equal­ity as they break hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­tures, feels Amit Sinha, vice-pres­i­dent, busi­ness and peo­ple at Paytm. “Dis­solv­ing walls en­cour­ages a healthy ex­change of ideas and on-the-spot brain­storm­ing. It promotes knowl­edge shar­ing and learn­ing and al­lows an em­ployee to ap­proach his/her col­leagues and re­solve the is­sue at the ear­li­est,” he says.

Re­it­er­at­ing the same, Dr Chan­dan Chowd­hury, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor-In­dia, Das­sault Sys­tèmes, says, “Open spa­ces give one a feel­ing of ca­ma­raderie which en­cour­ages team­work and boosts pro­duc­tiv­ity. In­ter­ac­tions in an open-plan of­fice space are more fre­quent and in­for­mal than in closed en­vi­ron­ments where ev­ery­one has a sep­a­rate of­fice space.”

So, how can open-plan of­fices be made to work bet­ter for employees? Propos­ing a so­lu­tion, Geetika Me­hta, di­rec­tor HR, Ur­ban Lad­der, says, “An open of­fice can be both pro­duc­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive. Such of­fices need to be built in­tel­li­gently to en­sure the right bal­ance of pri­vate and open spa­ces.” At Ur­ban Lad­der, employees enjoy flex­i­ble seat­ing ar­range­ments. “We have ‘jump spa­ces’ for employees who find it dif­fi­cult to work on their desks due to noise. We also have sep­a­rate smaller rooms, booths and bal­conies to at­tend to phonecalls,” says Me­hta.

Be­sides usual pri­vate spa­ces, Paytm has break­out ar­eas on the floor where employees can enjoy their ‘me-time’. “Of­fice plan­ners should en­sure enough space for each per­son. Also, there should be some guide­lines on things that may dis­turb oth­ers, such as play­ing mu­sic. Th­ese guide­lines, if com­mu­ni­cated to peo­ple at the time of in­duc­tion can help,” says Sinha.

Koenig So­lu­tions has spe­cial seat­ing ar­range­ments for peo­ple who want to talk loudly and study. Also, there are phone booths for peo­ple to make phone calls, meet­ing rooms and an in­house li­brary where employees can study in si­lence. “We have wit­nessed an in­crease in em­ploy- ee pro­duc­tiv­ity. Some peo­ple find it in­spir­ing and can be cre­ative while work­ing in a crowded, noisy en­vi­ron­ment, oth­ers pre­fer quiet spa­ces and at times they want a mix of both. The work­place needs to of­fer a va­ri­ety of pub­lic and pri­vate spa­ces,” says Ag­gar­wal. Meher Sarid, pres­i­dent-cor­po­rate af­fairs (mar­ket­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, HR, qual­ity and ser­vice ex­cel­lence), Ox­i­gen Ser­vices In­dia, says even within a sin­gle com­pany, in­di­vid­ual de­part­ments have dif­fer­ent needs. Employees who reg­u­larly dis­cuss sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, such as those in hu­man re­sources or le­gal de­part­ments, may need more pri­vacy than those who work in sales. “Com­pa­nies think­ing about how to struc­ture their of­fices should re­search what best fits their employees’ needs, rather than sim­ply fol­low­ing the trend. Open of­fices may seem bet­ter suited to younger work­ers, many of whom multi-task for most of their short ca­reers,” she says.

While some peo­ple pre­fer sit­ting next to a wall, oth­ers like to be in the cen­tre 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 neigh­bour to bounce ideas back and forth with. Hence, ac­com­mo­dat­ing dif­fer­ent work styles is the way to go, says Steve Cor­rea, ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and head - HR, United Spir­its Lim­ited. “We main­tain a bal­ance by pro­vid­ing a va­ri­ety of op­tions in­stead of a sin­gle as­signed seat for each em­ployee. Through­out the day, employees can se­lect an ap­pro­pri­ate en­vi­ron­ment to ac­com­plish the task at hand,” he says.

ILLUSTRATION: JAYANTO

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