Kristi Sinclair - HR Professional
I would love to have my own little office. Now I’m not talking about my home office workspace I have set up (beautifully I might add with special guest visits from my cat). I’m talking about a private space back in the HR Staff n’ Stuff office. In my fantasy world, I have my own office where I’ve got a few indoor plants and photos on the walls, the space is gorgeous and it’s all mine! Then it hits me… I am all alone and I have to get up and walk to the next office every time I need to talk a scenario out with a colleague or get an update on a project! Wouldn’t it be easier if I could just pop my head up and chat over the top of a partition?
The jury is out on open plan working spaces versus private offices, and to be honest, there a myriad of pros and cons for both options – and all are relative to the people, the work and the business itself.
But does COVID-19 spell the end to open plan working spaces as an option?
If open plan working arrangements are to continue, they will have to adapt to meet the needs of the Covid normal world. The necessity to change might turn out to be the best thing for us, giving us both centralised and socially distant, collaborative, and private working worlds.
What do employees want?
At the moment, many workers are happy with remote working; they are keeping safe and performing their roles and enjoying the reduced commute time which has resulted in more personal time. Other workers have not been able to adequately distinguish between ‘working from home time’ and ‘home time’ and have struggled to make this work – these workers are super eager to return to their pre Covid workplaces. Some businesses have found that productivity has been retained or even improved in remote working arrangements, while other managers are still trying to understand if Mary and John have been as productive as they would have been in the office. The question of honesty, transparency, accountability and productivity is still sitting firmly in the undecided column with many businesses… it is clear that the working arrangements that best suit each business are really yet to be determined and these will be an ongoing work in progress for some time to come.
It's always about flexibility
However, it is clear that many businesses will need to factor in a flexible and potential hybrid approach between working on site and working from home as a matter of safety – at times driven by government direction. There will also be issues arising of staff retention if people are not provided with the flexibility to work differently, now that it has been ‘proven’ that it can be done. And we will need to continue with it for the foreseeable future until we better understand the impact of the vaccine. Along with the flexibility to work from home, workers are also starting to express their desire for increased personal interaction to foster effective and productive teamwork and thus, seeking to return to the office as well. So you see, many considerations need to be factored in while businesses grapple with the ideal workplace of the future.
It is indisputable that businesses will require and desire their employees to work from the business at least part of the time, regardless of what working model they land on. So what will that mean for current open plan work spaces?
It’s clear that businesses that have workers returning to the office will need to make some changes to ensure that any open plan work spaces are meeting Covid Safe guidelines – such as ensuring there is 4sqm per person in the space overall, placing workstations at least 1.5 metres apart or installing sneeze guards between stations that sit parallel or that face each other and so on. The presence of sanitiser will no doubt become the norm, and we expect that there will be a lot less ‘hotdesking’ going on. Business will also need to review their current practices around shared use equipment and meetings rooms, to ensure safety……
We don’t need to throw the bathwater out with the baby – open plan workspaces became popular because of the organic collaboration that ensued, leading to increased problem solving, consultation across teams and improved communication. It helped to breakdown silos and increased accountability and transparency (no more George making a bed under the desk to take a nap!).
Let’s review the main pros and cons of open plan working spaces:
PROS OF OPEN OPEN WORK SPACES
Collaboration and problem solving. Removing physical barrier encourages collaboration and problem solving. If an employee can turn to their colleague to run an idea by them it promotes discussion and problem solving. This is conducive to learning and promotes increased levels of performance.
Training and feedback. The ability to provide instant feedback and on the spot situational training is invaluable in any work environment. This is far more likely to occur in an open plan office when senior staff members are easily approachable and accessible and can see and hear what’s going on.
Social connection & brand loyalty. Open plan offices promote a high level of social connection and in turn brand loyalty. When employees have an emotional connection to each other and to the business, productivity is likely to increase; they put their hearts into it.
CONS OF OPEN PLAN WORK SPACES
Noisy & disruptive. Open plan work spaces can be noisy and disruptive. Too much socialising can have a negative impact on productivity and concentration We’ve all had those busy days where we have a deadline to meet and that one employee who is on top of things is up for a chat. It can be hard for employees to shut their colleagues down when it’s just not appropriate for them to be chatting.
Privacy. Sometimes it can be difficult to have a private conversation or work based discussion of a sensitive nature in an open plan space. If a hybrid approach to onsite and remote work is to be adopted and the use of teleconferencing remains high, imagine the challenges you will face with multiple people in an open plan work space on different video conference meetings? What a nightmare! (Solutions abound though – phone booth style cones of silence, smaller individual private meetings rom for 1 or 2 people etc)
Conclusion: Ultimately, the decision to keep an open plan work space is going to come down to the needs of your business. Is it financially viable to change the physical structure, what works best for your team culture and productivity, will a hybrid approach to onsite working mitigate any need for single office spaces? Can you offset a noisy open plan with the provision of quiet spaces (remembering that hygiene practices must be of the highest level if there is to be any sharing of work areas)? Remember that in a world where we are going to see more video conferencing and more people working remotely we are going to need offices with quiet rooms to conduct these functions.
Proximity promotes collaboration – perhaps consider a fusion of COVIDsafe individual work spaces in an open plan office with quiet rooms and a big meeting room style collaboration space. Whatever you choose, highlighting and communicating behavioural expectations based on your company values and policies along with adherence to well promoted hygiene practices will ensure you have the foundations of a safe and balanced work environment for your team.
Call the team at HR Staff n’ Stuff if you need support with any aspect of creating a positive workspace – we’re always here to help!
The HR Staff n' Stuff team all contribute to our blogs. Enjoy the read!