7 Innovative tricks to take advantage of an open office design

Open Office Design

Open office design is one of the hottest trends around. But, far from a passing fad, open offices can actually be rather practical, providing value to your workers. This is especially important if you're looking to attract millennial workers, who are leading the flexible working charge.

Why the open office is a good thing

Open offices have become one of the hottest topics in the design world. In fact, even colleagues working in the same open office may disagree over its value. In response to “Offices for All! Why Open-Office Layouts are Bad for Employees, Bosses, and Productivity,” an article published on fastcompany.com, another Fast Company writer published an article later that same week, arguing that open offices were indeed valuable—their own company just hadn't approached the design in the right way. Open offices can lead to:

Faster communication

When you're isolated from your colleagues and communicating mostly online, it's easy for conversations to take longer than they need to. Asking clarifying questions can be difficult, or a lag in response time might prevent an issue from being resolved as quickly as it could be. By making it easier to have those face-to-face conversations, open offices promote better and faster communication.

Better understanding

Open offices give company leaders a better opportunity to understand how the day-to-day operations work. Anjali Mullany, the author of the pro-open office story in Fast Company, says that at one of her previous jobs, her boss spent half his time in his own office, and the other half sitting with staff. “It was a great system because it allowed him to understand, first hand, what his employees' days were like—and made us employees believe he understood our workflow problems, too.” 

More approachability

While some introverts may dislike open offices because they go against their need for a quiet place to focus, Mullany says that they may have a benefit for introverts, too. Having access to company leaders can remove the intimidation factor of talking to them. “I find it far more intimidating to knock on an office door than to turn to a nearby colleague,” she writes.

Whether you have an existing open office space or you’re looking for a way to incorporate more open office elements into your traditional workplace structure, here are seven innovative tricks that’ll help you take advantage of this open layout.

How to achieve a balanced open office

Now that we've discussed some of the benefits of the open office, let's look at some logistical details. How can one make the open office work? Privacy and openness don't have to be opposing forces, if you're smart about your layout and resources. Here are a few tips on how you can make an open office comfortable for all staff, regardless of how they like to work.

Whether you have an existing open office space or you’re looking for a way to incorporate more open office elements into your traditional workplace structure, here are seven innovative tricks that’ll help you take advantage of this open layout.

1. Incorporate movable furniture

Open Office Furniture

Static office environments are a thing of the past. Movable furniture can help cater to different employee preferences, allowing people to easily switch between different work modes throughout the day and allowing for your business to evolve. 

By having movable desks and cabinets, you can easily create walls when you need to isolate yourself in order to focus or bring the team together for meetings.

2. Provide alternative seating

We all know how bad sitting all day is for your health. In order to promote employee health, it’s a good idea to offer multiple seating options for your employee to switch between throughout the day.

You can offer options like:
    • Yoga balls
    • Kneeling chairs
    • Standing desks
    • Treadmill desks
    • Walking meetings

3. Forget assigned seating

Flexible seating allows your employees to work from the part of the office where they feel the most productive. For instance, some people might prefer the quiet desk in the corner, or the couch that gets the most sunlight. Others, who are motivated by an energetic work atmosphere, might want a desk that’s right in the center of all the office commotion. Whatever their liking, make sure you offer the choices that best suit the business and your employees. 

For the open-office layout to work, staff should be seated in a way that lets them feel like they have their own space. At software review company Software Advice2, for example, staff are seated at tables, but they don't sit directly across from each other. Instead, they sit in staggered pattern so that “so that if you lift your eyes from the computer, you’re not looking into a colleague’s face.” Additionally, coworkers sitting on the same side of a table also have enough distance from each other. This also lets them feel like they have their own space and gives them room to spread out with any necessary documents or materials they need for work.

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4. Create a coffee shop–like atmosphere or provide tools for a curated working experience

Open Office Coffee Shop

Many remote workers tend to prefer working in coffee shops due to the constant background activity and creative atmosphere. You can create this same ambiance in your office by including a mix of cafe-style and lounge-type seating arrangements that will facilitate more relaxed conversations.

Contrasting the employees who like external background noise, there are also those that like to be in their own world with more of a curated atmosphere. Made Movement, an advertising agency based in Boulder, Co., issues headphones to each of its new employees so they can fully concentrate while working in the company's open office. While not every company may want to spend money in this way, it may be worth it to crunch some numbers and see how much the cost of ordering some good headphones in bulk compares with the real estate costs of maintaining cubicles and private offices.

5. Take advantage of underused space

When it comes to maximizing the space you have, you need to know which areas of your office are actually being used. One way to find out is by implementing a software tool.

This type of management software will tell you which areas of the office people love to be in and highlight others that could use a little freshening up. Using this tool, you don’t have to make office design decisions based on intuition alone—you can use data to gain insights that will result in more effective decision making.

6. Include configurable spaces

Open offices aren't for everyone. For those who need their own space to focus, these layouts can actually put a damper on individual work. That’s why it’s important to also offer alternative seating arrangements so your office works for every type of employee.

Position your office furniture so employees won’t be able to see one another when working, or have couches that sit below the eyeline of the rest of the workers. You could even create quiet rooms with limited noise and distraction for those that truly just need to get away from it all. Remember, flexible working means flexibility in the space and the choices of how one works.

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7. Use zoning principles

open office quiet space

Although open offices thrive on creativity and flexibility, it’s important to have some sort of standards so your office doesn’t descend into chaos.

One way to do this is to adopt zoning standards, similar to how urban engineers mark off certain aspects of a city. For example, if you have room, dedicate a portion of your office to quiet, focused work. This will help to provide some semblance of structure in which your office can thrive.

For employees who need to buckle down and concentrate, quiet spaces can be a godsend. However, it's important to think about logistics like where these quiet spaces are located. While you don't want them too close to areas where people are conversing, you also don't want them so far away from the main work area that staff members never use them. You can strike this delicate balance between distance versus acoustics by outfitting the room with soundproof material, or using signage to remind those outside the room that they're entering a quiet area.

Open offices can be challenging, but they can also make the workplace fun, exciting, and creative. 

Incorporating elements of an open office layout can help most workplaces become more productive and communicative. A creative and inspiring office space is often no more than a few design changes away!

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