Tuesday, May 19, 2015

3 Reasons Open Office Plans Are Better After All

The open-concept office has its detractors. But it can improve communication without harming productivity.

The open office concept has been around for awhile, but lately has come under fire. Apparently having no walls, no doors, and shared workspaces undermines what the concept was designed to achieve: communication and flow of ideas amongst employees. According to some scientific research, the open concept decreases employees' job satisfaction and decreases privacy, which also affects productivity.

But despite what some of the organizational psychologists and other productivity experts say, the open concept can make a team more cohesive, especially if it's adopted by the senior staff and CEO.

It can also give leaders a better picture of what's going on at the company. Those are just two reasons I'm leaving my company's mostly open concept setup as it is (we have a couple of employees who are more productive when they work in their own offices). And it's also the reason that I, the CEO, sit at the desk that's usually reserved for the receptionist, right next to the front door. Yep, just like Pam from "The Office."

Here are three reasons leaders should consider sitting in the middle of the action:

1. You're tuned in to the office vibe.

If you sit in the same general vicinity as your team, you'll hear more of what they're discussing--good and bad. It's not like you need to function like some sort of NSA operative, but if you're aware of people's concerns, you have an opportunity to weigh in and offer guidance when it's needed. When people need to meet privately with each other or with you, just make sure they have a place to do so that has doors.

2. You're more approachable.

I've never had the pleasure of working in a cubicle, or in an "old-fashioned" office. That said, I envision a corporate setup as being very compartmentalized and the kind of place where the staff don't feel comfortable talking to the executives. A layout where the junior employees are stuck in the middle and the senior-level people are tucked away behind closed doors, kind of like Mad Men.

Setting up my desk near the front door and, coincidentally, next to the kitchen, means people are walking by all the time; anyone can ask me anything at pretty much any time. I can just say "go ahead" and what needs to get done, gets done.

Yes, being in an open office can affect productivity. To get around that, you might adopt a policy that when people need to work undisturbed they're free to work from home. And at the office, make sure everyone has a pair of headphones, and that the rule is when headphones are on, it's code for "Do not disturb."

3. It improves interoffice communication.

Tools like HipChat and Slack make interoffice communication quick and easy, but it's also nice to hear people actually talking to one another, which happens naturally in an open office.

As my company grows--we now have 17 people in our main office and three people who work remotely--space is becoming an issue. I've looked at a few spaces that have tons of character--like beautiful old Victorian houses that have been converted to offices--but I'm reluctant to move into a building where we could all go days without seeing each other. I'm not entirely sure yet how we'll deal with the office space issue as we add more staff, but finding a place where we can still work in an open environment is a priority.

As seen on Inc.com

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