Does an Open Workplace Work for You?
SAN JOSE, CA—What kind of workplace is best for you? Open vs. closed? Collaborative vs. private?
The debate is intensifying, with recent studies citing that open offices—i.e. floor plans that maximize the use of open spaces and minimize closed rooms—aren’t working; in fact, they may be disruptive and inhibit productivity. Other case studies show that they are working, by promoting collaboration and sparking creativity.
While we should continue this dialogue, it’s important that we view this not as a one-size-fits-all solution. The open office works in many cases but not all. So, before tenants decide on their best approach, they should perform their due diligence and understand what environment is right for them.
The office of the future—with open, creative, collaborative space as a centerpiece— will always evolve along with technology advances work styles changes. A good way to think about this issue is in terms of a “spectrum” of choices and customized solutions.
Whether the open office—or some iteration thereof—is right for you depends on many variables:
- Industry. While many technology companies seem to thrive in an open environment or a hybrid version, law firms, financial institutions, and advertising agencies are examples of industries where privacy is important.
- Culture and demographics. Tech-savvy, multi-tasking younger workers are typically more adaptable to open environments. The culture in many traditional offices is more structured,” with senior executives often feeling entitled and reluctant to give up their corner offices.
- Brand. How will it be integrated and reflected in the workplace in terms of its design and implementation? What does the workplace say about your values?
- Sustainability. How important are environmental factors like LEED (plans to promote renewable energy and employee health, with natural lighting and other “green” considerations).
- Mobility. Increasingly, companies are allowing more employees, such as sales staff, to work remotely. While this reduces space needs, many managers fear this decreases accountability. In any event, employees need to return to home base at some point to reconnect.
- Business plan. Perhaps most important is the need to align your business plan with your workplace strategy. If you are in a growth mode and must recruit and retain talent, creative, collaborative environments that promote the “live-work-play” dynamic are attractive lures.
These variables contain many nuances. For instance, even tech environments may include engineers who need their own space to write code. On the flip side, financial institutions might benefit from common areas for staff to recharge. In this light, a generally open office can offer a variety of private and semi-private spaces, and more traditional environments can have open accommodations.
Distractions are a common issue in an open plan work setting. Depending on the setting, background music may create a positive buzz, or it may become annoying. When planning your acoustics, consider how sound masking can work for you.
Working with Workplace Specialists
Whether you’re a small startup or a mature organization, you need to carefully plan ahead. More than likely, you will want need to engage outside consultants who specialize in workplace design and solutions.
Experienced project managers who understand workplace issues can help answer the questions posed above. They can provide objective analysis and start-to-finish support, including strategic planning, design, and implementation.
The best project managers have mastered the art of listening and engaging tenants in the process. At the same time, project managers must know how to prevent clients from following the wrong path.
Precedents and Economics
While the open office is a hot topic today, the genesis of is concept goes back to the last century. And before it became a trend on the West Coast, it had its roots in parts of Europe and Japan.
The open office is here to stay. A recent IFMA (International Facilities Management Association) survey of members revealed that 60% have open offices, 32% have private offices and 8% have a team-oriented “bullpen” style. The survey stresses, however, that no two offices are exactly alike.
In short, it’s not an open-or-closed case. It’s not a decision to make in haste or in a vacuum. Rather, it’s a critical corporate issue with bottom-line implications that you should address with the understanding that you are a unique enterprise…and as such, you need a unique plan for your workplace.
Robin Weckesser is a managing principal and head of the project management group at Cresa San Jose. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here are the author’s own.
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