DATE: 10/19/2015

Maybe we can spend less on space, the logic seems to go, and convince employees that it’s helping them.That’s an excerpt from a recent op-ed, written by a Fast Company employee who recently switched from a private office to an open office floorplan. Vocalizations in opposition to collaborative workspaces are nothing new. Critical postings written by employees have circulated the Internet widely since the onset of the trend in the late 2000s.

For an employer getting ready to transition his company to an open plan, such sentiments can be frightening. After all, no one wants an unhappy staff! And not just because happiness is good for productivity (yep, it’s true; a University of Warwick study found happier employees to be 12 percent more productive), but because supporting your staff’s right to a high-quality life is the right thing to do.

At CBI, we’ve seen time and time again that it isn’t open office floorplans that create disgruntled employees, but ineffective leadership and/or transitional preparation. That’s not to say that every company would benefit from an open concept – check out this article if you’re still not sure about what’s right for you – but most would.

For example, the Fast Company author referenced in this article admitted to being interrupted nearly a dozen times while writing his piece. We’ll be the first to admit, that does sound frustrating (note: the organization did publish a subsequent piece in favor of open office plans). But our question for the employer would be, “What are you doing, or NOT doing, to create a company culture that makes these sort of interruptions OK?”

We’ve written before on the 5 steps to creating an effective Change Management Plan[1] and what a difference that can make to transitioning employees successfully. Now we’d like to review some simple tips for improving open office situations already in effect:

Remove The Walls

While workstation partitions foster a wonderful sense of visual privacy, they can also foster a false sense of auditory privacy. Meaning, since “Loud Marge” can’t see you furrowing your brow – deep concentration – across the room, she forgets to lower her voice when taking that client call. Though it may seem counterintuitive, removing these barriers may create a more courteous workspace.

Reinforce Protocol

If you took the time to create an effective Change Management Plan, you’ve already developed a set of “behavior guidelines.” These guidelines should be highly specific, outlining protocol for different workspaces and situations. The problem with “new” rules? We forget them. The problem with “old” rules? We abuse them. Combat both these tendencies by posting etiquette reminders on all working areas, including privacy enclaves, large open spaces and conference rooms.

Switch Places

If you aren’t already working side by side with your employees, it might be beneficial to switch desks with an employee for a couple weeks. Sometimes the only way to really understand what is going on in your collaborative workspace is to be a part of it. Doing so will give you fresh insights on how you can improve your collaborative space.

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