We live, work, and breathe by sharing. Whether it’s updating our loved ones with our whereabouts for safety, expressing our feelings so that people can better understand us, or presenting our plans to our colleagues foster collaboration, sharing is integral to our society. It stands to reason therefore that the concept of sharing should dictate modern office design.
The recent increase open plan offices symptomatic of the increased openness that we desire from our team members - we wish to know what others are up to, we want to be sure we’re not missing out on things, and we want to confirm that we’re getting the most out of each other. Is it possible, however, that open office design compromises our productivity?
A recent survey by Diskette Behavioural Research suggests that less than a quarter of office workers prefer the open plan office style, citing noise, toxic cliques, and lack of privacy as issues that arise as a consequence. So, in our open, sharing age, do privacy and quiet spaces have a place in the working environment? Well, within the survey, participants stated that due to the general noise of their open offices, they resorted to putting in headphones, thus making them feel more isolated from the rest of the team. The knock-on effect of this is that many employees who work in noisy open offices report a negative impact on their mental health and their productivity.
What’s wrong with a bit of privacy, peace and quiet in an office environment? Whether it’s a client call that needs to be taken, a departmental meeting or simply just a bit of silence needed to churn out a report, we could all do with our own headspace every now and again. Open plan offices prevent this kind of activity, and as such, lowers productivity and encourages isolation. Obviously, there are times when open plan offices come into their own - group projects, asking for help, inducting new recruits - but there should also be quieter, more private breakout spaces for those who need it. Alternatively, have breakout rooms for collaborative activities and revert back to traditional closed offices - Diskette’s research showed that 35.5% of people prefer this style of working environment, more than any other segment.
With more people opting to work remotely or those working in open offices plugging in their headphones, the privacy paradox is well and truly in effect. Managing to balance the quiet privacy needed to be productive and get on with your day, with the culture building, collaborative activities that are necessary to create a holistic, successful team, is no small task. But by recognising that your employees have different needs and that in order to have a successful team that is happy and satisfied in their roles, which, at the end of the day, is what every manager wants.