Policy and purpose can make work a pleasure
The concept of an open plan office exists for the reasons it started in the first place - efficiency and collaboration,” Elizabeth Valkovics, Head of Interior Design at EDGE in Dubai, told Gulf News.
According to Valkovics, a 100 per cent open-plan office can “function very positively, promoting great communication and transparency within a company.”
But there is a caveat - if an open-plan office is not managed properly in terms of operations and policy, it can work to alienate or discourage the staff, she added.
Valkovics gives examples of some things that do not work in an open plan office and others that do:
A perennial issue of concern in an open plan office is the sharing of sensitive information between employees where they are forced to whisper to keep their conversations discreet, said Valkovics. “Though the other staff do not need to know [about what is being discussed], the whispering makes them feel left out,” she said.
This can create a sense of disatisfaction and a greater spiral of speculation.
While a lot of staff enjoy the social and collaborative aspect of open floor plans, there are others who find it stressful, noisy and full of conflict. This can affect their productivity and state of mind.
“The noise level in open plan offices is much louder and this certainly increases distractions. Depending on the type of business and the operational strategy of that company, the productivity may or may not increase,” Volkovics said.
On the positive side, a manager can find visibility in what his team is working on as a useful thing as it “becomes a way to review the work without having to distract the employees,” said Valkovics.
She also highlighted that while most companies need physical desks and meeting spaces, a lot of companies are now completely cloud-based and are able to conduct global businesses from anywhere they choose.
“There are already great examples of co-working spaces where companies share offices or one can rent an office by the hour.
“This strategy favours the individual and small- to medium-sized companies, but we will see some interesting solutions to running global businesses,” she said, referring to the future of offices.
“As technology improves, we will adapt our offices and working practices,” she added.
“Lack of privacy is a very common complaint,” said Valkovics. “There is definitely a concern regarding the visibility of sensitive company information, which can sometimes be gleaned from an employee’s computer screen.”
As a designer of open-plan offices, she said the feedback from employees is split equally in favour of productivity and major concerns about distractions.