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For better or worse, a company’s office workspace contributes to overall productivity. Today many companies are tearing down the once ubiquitous cubicles in favor of open plans. While this practice has some detractors, Elizabeth Dukes says open workspaces foster collaboration and productivity.
Dukes is coauthor of Wide Open Workspace: Trailblazing solutions for Tomorrows Workforce which provides information and advice on how to make workspaces work more effectively. She’s also Partner and EVP iOffice, a facility management software provider and consulting company. Designed to help facility managers run their workplace smarter, the iOffice software has ten modules, built specifically for facility management, which can be modified to meet a company’s specific business needs.
Here Dukes shares some of her thoughts on how to create effective open workplaces.
What are three ways to increase productivity by managing the office space?
First, understand the current break down of your space types and how they are used. Then modify them according to changing need. Traditionally, offices have the majority of their space dedicated to individual offices or workstations with the rest being collaborative space. The new trend is to move to a more balanced environment with a 50/50 split. This is based on a change in workforce dynamics with the emergence of Millennials as a critical talent pool, who will become a significant percentage of the workforce in the near future. Millennials, unlike the generation before them, are more innovative and creative when they work collaboratively.
Second, allow for technological mobility inside the workspace. In order to make the workspace open to collaboration, employees need access to work resources, which includes both data and their co-workers. The workspace needs to allow workers to easily connect and engage through platforms such as audio/video conferencing, online meeting forums and secure WIFI connections.
Finally, offer Self-Service Technology to the workforce. In today’s world, employees want mobility technology to access resources and services immediately. They don’t want to have to fill out a form or make a phone call, but to use an app on their phone from both inside the office space or in the field. Empowering the workforce to easily request services, locate equipment or other employees and reserve space gives them greater control and enhances productivity not only for the worker, but also for the team managing the workspace. The facilities team can be more responsive by receiving requests real-time and being able to respond and update status with the corresponding phone or email.
Those who favor an open work environment note that it’s about removing barriers not just walls. Can you expand on that?
Open work environments allow folks with different skill sets, job titles and group associations to sort of cross-pollinate and collaborate. Because the conversation is not forced and is casual, barriers that may have been created through organizational hierarchy or different job responsibilities naturally fall away and new ideas are formulated. Yes, people may over hear your conversation but the results are frequently positive with a co-worker offering an alternative solution, idea or approach that you or your team may never have considered. It is also fun. It creates a sense of camaraderie that would not necessarily be there if people were separated by doors and walls.
What do you say to employees who cite a lack of privacy in today’s open work places? What about those who complain about being too distracted to work?
I would agree that it can be challenging. However, for many companies, the good outweighs the bad in terms of productivity gains related to problem solving and innovation. I think this will continue to be the case as the demographics of the workforce trend toward the Millennial age group. Millennials are noted as being more effective in collaborative environments. For those that still complain, it is important to give them options including head down space or flexible work programs. Finally, there are number of design elements that can be deployed to minimize noise.
What are some ways to combat the stress of an open workplace environment?
As I mentioned, it is about balance. Balance in the workspace design and flexible work options. For workspace design, there needs to be the right combination of quiet space and project and collaborative space. Flexible work options give employees the option of going off-site when needed. The exact workspace design and flexible work program should be determined by your organizational focus and the kinds of work taking place. Finally, have the employees create standards of engagement in the workplace so that a code of behavior exists that everyone has agreed on and respects.
What’s the best way to transition an existing cubicle/private office workplace into an open office environment?
First, you need a good understanding of your current environment. What is the makeup of your space and how is it being use? What is the type of work that is taking place? What technology resources are in place? After current is defined, establish objectives of the transition. Is it productivity gains? Maximized use of the real estate footprint? An increase in creative thought and innovation? More collaboration? These questions should be answered by a coalition led by the C-suite and key departments including facilities, human resources and IT. Good communication with the workforce about the goals of the program and how it will impact productivity in a positive manner is also a critical element. The workforce should be engaged in helping make decisions about the new work environment like furniture selection or naming conference rooms. Getting buy in from all levels ensures a greater degree of success.