The open office concept has grown in popularity over the last decade in corporate and small business spaces all over the world. But while some people do like them, they may be in the minority. Many agreed with a Fast Company article that stated “Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’ve also been associated with high staff turnover.”
However, open offices do exist, and if your company makes use of them it's likely going to be rather hard – or problematically expensive – to change things back. However, if you do have employees who struggle to work in such an environment, it is up to you as a manager to help them adapt. Here are some common issues employees encounter and solutions for navigating them you can share with your employees so that they can be their most productive selves.
It's Too Loud
The most obvious problem that comes along with working in an open office environment is that it is simply too loud for many people's tastes. But it's also hard to hush people, because yes, Jane has to make her sales call and Fred and Kate do need that conversation about their newest marketing campaign's performance. The business of the company cannot grind to a halt because some employees would like some peace and quiet.
In this situation noise cancelling headphones can be the answer, but they aren't cheap. However, as it is you, the employer, who is asking your employees to work under these conditions then you – or the company at least – should be willing to provide them for any employee who requests them.
It's Too Cold (or Too Hot)
Climate control issues in an open office environment can be hard to deal with too. Inevitably the air conditioning in the summer is wrong for some and the same is true of heat in winter. And as the perfect temperature to work in is very much a subjective, personal issue these are problems that are hard to solve.
The best way many managers have found to end climate wars in the office is to set a temperature that's reasonable and then limit employee access to thermostats. However, you may have to loosen the office dress code a little to accommodate those with other ideas about what the right temperature is, such as allowing your employees to work without the normal suit jackets in the summer or allow people to swap shirts for sweaters in the winter.
Personal Phone Call Distractions
Ideally, employees should not be spending too much time on personal phone calls, but one or two a day are almost inevitable, especially when there are so many working parents in the workforce. However, these personal phone calls can be very distracting to others in an open office environment.
The answer here is to provide an area that people can retreat to to take these calls. A small area that's comfortable, and that has a phone that the call can be easily transferred to. In fact, this kind of an area is a must in any open office environment, not just for taking personal calls but to provide any employee who needs it a place to get away from the crowd for a few minutes to destress and gather their thoughts.
When Do You Give Up On the Open Office Concept?
As we mentioned, several studies have shown that an open office environment contributes to employee dissatisfaction and can increase employee turnover. So, as trendy as they are, there may come a time when you will need to encourage senior management to consider giving up on the idea of co-working in an open space altogether.
But how do you close off an open office without breaking the bank? It can be hard. Some designers have come up with 'office pods' as a solution, but as they are not inexpensive then adding them into the mix may be a hard sell to the board. However, if you can add just one or two, and offer them to employees as a place to retreat when the y really need to, while trying your best to make the open areas of the office more pleasing for all, then they may offer an ROI in terms of employee satisfaction and retention that is hard to beat.