3 Best Practices that Turn an Open Office Environment from Regretful to Rewarding

A few years ago, many businesses — including giant brands like Google — led the charge towards what is now known as “open office” spaces. Essentially, these are workspaces that have no (or few) barriers between workers. The idea was to promote interaction and communication; especially among colleagues on different teams who might otherwise go days, weeks, months, or even years without engaging each other outside of the lunchroom or corporate party.

Well, fast forward a few years, and many of the organizations that have implemented an open office are wondering what went wrong. Instead of promoting collaboration, their environment is disorganized, confused, and in some extreme cases, chaotic. Was the open office concept a bad idea?

The answer to that was — and remains — a categorical no. Open offices can and do deliver major workplace improvements. The issue, however, is that many organizations failed to anchor their office design around a core of best practices. In other words: the open office concept is fine, but their strategy often needs some improvement.

According to the interior solutions firm Key Interiors, which has been in the office design industry for more than 30 years, here are 3 ways to turn an open office environment from regretful to rewarding:

  1. Pay Attention to Privacy

An open office approach doesn’t (and can’t) mean that private spaces no longer exist — because quite often, work is of a confidential nature, or employees simply need a quiet, relatively secluded space to go heads-down and concentrate. Creating private work areas with glass enclosures or cubicle partitions are both cost effective ways to make this happen.

  1. Use Lightweight, Modular Furniture

One of the core benefits of an open office approach, is that teams can reconfigure the furniture (e.g. tables, desks, workstations, etc.) to meet their various needs, such as holding team meetings, delivering training, and so on. However, organizations that deploy heavy, bulky furniture make this reconfiguration difficult — or in some cases, impossible.

  1. Establish and enforce clear policies.

Despite their good intentions, some employees just don’t know how to function efficiently and effectively in an open office environment. And frankly, there are some employees who simply exploit the setup to spend as much time as possible chatting away, and as little time as possible actually working (but it could certainly be worse, as illustrated by this harrowing list of worst employees of the year). To make an open office work, organizational leaders must establish and enforce clear policies around issues like noise, where employees can eat (and where they can’t), warnings about chronic “pen clicking” and other habits that can drive colleagues up the wall, and so on.

The Bottom Line

Open office environment can and do work, and the proof is easy to find: organizations that get their strategy, approach and policies right improve collaboration, engagement, quality, performance and results. The above best practices can help your organization turn an open office environment from regrettable to rewarding.