Question: We’re moving office and all the spaces we’ve seen are really collaborative. How can I make an open plan setting work for my staff without impacting productivity?

Danny Parmar, form our Birmingham team answers:

Let’s face it – office space can be expensive. This means that embracing an open plan office can often be cheaper than providing offices for individual employees or teams. But open plan design isn’t perfect. While there may be a buzz from increased interaction across the office, some employees may find this distracting. Our survey found that over two thirds of office workers believe they’re less productive in the open plan, with 70% saying they lose 30 minutes a day to distractions.

Uncontrolled interactions can impede our productivity and for some people, the impact of increased noise and reduced output can increase stress. When we’re under pressure, the last thing we want is an office that adds to our mental strain. Private conversations are also more difficult in a space without walls, raising questions about confidentiality – particularly in HR, finance or legal departments.

The good news is that there are ways to negate some of its most irksome characteristics. Layout is one of the ways to mitigate this – it’s crucial that employees can move to other parts of the office for certain tasks. Implementing an ‘activity-based working’ model provides a variety of settings to support different types of working. It’s a mix of quiet and collaborative areas, and it represents what workers have been crying out for. Your choice of furniture is important too and your chosen design and fit out partner should be able to help you find solutions – like high-backed booths or pods –  that break up the open plan and absorb sound.

What makes open plan exciting is the opportunity to exchange ideas. Colleagues tend to interact more casually and frequently, which builds closer relationships over time. Distractions in an open plan office can certainly be overcome with the right design, without losing the benefits of collaboration or impacting productivity.

Danny Parmar, Overbury Birmingham
Danny Parmar, Overbury Birmingham

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