Employees Hate Open Workspaces, But There is a Solution The setup should have options for private conversations, solitary work areas when employees need high levels of concentration

By Rachna Baruah

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A quick Google search or a trip down your productivity lane will tell you how much people hate open layout workspaces.

Noisy colleagues? Check.

Lower productivity and cognition strength? Check.

Scare of getting the flu? Check.

Lack of privacy? Check.

Having to stuff earphones for all 10 hours of work? Check.

But do you foresee this layout being trashed anytime soon? Hell no, it's saving your employers wads of cash in real estate, equipment and consequent maintenance. Open layout workspaces have been a craze since the 1950s and it is not going anywhere, despite your reluctance to it.

I still shudder at the thought of the open layout of my first few jobs – the sudden shrieks of laughter and conversations from the content team, the unexpected waves of calling out items from take-out menus for lunch by the social media team – all led to such unproductive hours that staying back post-work hours to finish my tasks in a silent office was a norm for me.

Implemented with the idea of fostering collaboration, productivity and belongingness, this particular workspace style is only seeing more a welcome by more companies, thanks to the great PR by giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and global companies like WeWork who have found a brilliant way to monetize it. Now that it is established that open layout workspaces are going to stay, the best way to ensure there is a balance between employee satisfaction and employer ROIs, here are a few ways you can encourage the most effective growth and productivity in a company:

Giving the autonomy to employees

The office setup that has helped maximize productivity in the workspace is when employees have the freedom to choose which set-up they'd like to work in. While the office layout can be largely open for normal work, the setup should have options for private conversations, solitary work areas when employees need high levels of concentration or quick deadlines. When employees feel empowered to shift their work environment basis the work they're dealing with, it helps in increasing their morale and performance at large.

Gear up the green by a notch

Never discount the impact of environmental factors in the workspace. Not only do plants help prevent sick days, lessen stress and produce better air quality, placing plants strategically also help in avoiding distractions and create vision block walls. This will help employees stay focused on the work instead of glancing around. Access to green spaces also help alleviate overall stress and can calm employees to be more productive at large. In addition to this, having space for natural lighting and spaces to unwind with windows is a bonus.

Develop a positive "Place Identity"

In a research by Harvard Business Review, they discovered that the success of open offices has a lot to do with a phenomenon called Place Identity. It is essentially a feeling of how people feel about the space – wherein if a place identity is higher and positive among employees, they report more engagement in their work, more communication and a stronger connection to the company and its ideals. The study also uncovered that if leaders attributed or marketed the layout positively beforehand, it helped a large deal with how employees perceived that particular workplace. While leaders and managers can help with half of the perception, the other half can be filled with positivity by adding personal touches and the ability for employees find spaces to keep their personal belongings like family photos or a secure place to store their valuables.

Implement a "Do Not Disturb" schedule

Despite the big debate of multi-tasking, it is a fallacy when it comes to working. You cannot possible multi-task between filling in a 1,868-word quarterly plan into a spreadsheet and the accidental eavesdropping on a colleague's gossip. Further, a research by Applied Psychology showcased that people seeking help performed better at work, however, people who helped out actually lost out on their productivity. This happens due to the cognitive load of helping others while also trying to do your own work.

To counteract this, companies or teams can implement a block of few hours in a day where employees cannot be disturbed or distracted. Collaboration processes, meetings and brainstorming sessions can take place outside these hours, but companies can have a few set hours wherein every employee gets their quiet time to finish up tasks that require a high level of concentration or are on high priority in the list of tasks.

Till you find the perfect workplace balance, watch (or re-watch) The Office to gleefully rejoice at your luck of not finding yourself a boss like Michael Scott or a colleague like Kelly Kapoor. And worse, if you do find a resemblance between these characters and your real-life colleagues, then God be with you!
Rachna Baruah

Brand Consultant

Rachna Baruah is a PR specialist who has worked in industries like Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, AdTech, Healthcare, Education, Retail, among others. She is a results-driven, target-oriented professional with happy clients from across the world.

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