The open-plan office is the most basic and conventional workspace layout today, with 70 percent of American companies having adopted a form of open floor design.
But even though many employers favor the idea of having employees work at arms length of each other, this layout scheme actually diminishes productivity because what workers really crave is privacy.
How Workers Operate Without Privacy in Open-Plan Offices
A majority of employers believe that an open office encourages face-to-face interactions between coworkers, boosting workplace collaboration. It also seems easier to manage and supervise employees without physical barriers breaking the field of view. Do these claims hold any truth, and is such close supervision really necessary or welcome in a work environment?
A recent Harvard study investigating the correlation between open office architecture and collaboration found that the former does not inspire teamwork and is actually counterproductive. Firms that switched to open offices saw a 70-percent drop in face-to-face interactions. Besides, forced co-presence, which is what an open floor plan promotes, does not necessarily result in productive cooperation among coworkers.
What's more, 53 percent of employees in a survey said that they value their personal space, and only 28 percent said they like open office spaces.
There is no real justification for open-plan offices, especially when you put together the many disadvantages of the layout, which include:
- Lack of privacy
- Poor security leading to mistrust
- Noise and distractions from coworkers
- No physical barriers to curb the spread of infections
- Negative psychological implications
- Breakdown or underappreciation of rank, hierarchy and specialization
The Best Way to Bring Privacy to Open Offices
Although the substantial shortcomings of open offices might outweigh their simplicity and cost-saving benefits, many organizations have no choice but to make do with the same, mainly because of space limitations. Also, some workplace models are best suited to an open floor plan. So, for many companies, it’s not practical or feasible to completely do away with their current design.
If that’s the case, you should at least try to resolve one of the main drawbacks — privacy. The lack of it can not only impair productivity but also deteriorate employees’ mental and emotional wellness. In fact, open-plan offices report some of the highest levels of emotional exhaustion among workers. This often leads to high rates of absenteeism, low morale and reduced motivation to work.
The good news is, you don’t have to overhaul your entire office layout to provide your employees with a much-needed sense of seclusion. A bit of space-efficient reorganizing, installing new, high-end office furniture and a restructuring of the work culture is all you need to make employees feel comfortable in the workplace.
Here are some clever ways to make the best of whatever space you have to create some privacy in an open office.
Consider Interior Acoustics
One of the biggest problems in open offices is dealing with chatty, annoying coworkers. The noise issue cuts both ways; it's nearly impossible to have a private chat with a coworker among eavesdroppers. At the same time, busy workers can't help overhearing conversations from every part of the room. Add that to the endless ambient noises from the ruffling of papers, squeaking chairs and clacking keyboards, and the office turns into an orchestra of annoyance.
Some office workers resort to wearing noise-canceling headphones to keep out distractions, but that is only a temporary fix that doesn’t help everyone. A more holistic and permanent solution would be to try and dampen any sounds within the room.
For starters, line the interior walls with noise-absorbent material, cover the floor with a thick rug and install a drop ceiling with soundproofing qualities. Doing so can help minimize echoes and sound propagation in the office. A quiet work environment also encourages employee productivity in a big way.
Adopt an Agile Work Environment
An agile workspace is an improvement on the open floor plan that adds a bit of flexibility in the workplace and greatly promotes privacy. In this layout, the traditional open working space remains, but employees have access to secluded areas for tasks requiring privacy and detachment from the crowd.
The designated areas are calm environments that support a variety of individual and group activities such as private conversations, phone calls, meetings and even some me-time.
These isolation zones need to be noise and distraction free, but since putting up walls is often not a feasible design plan, the best option is to install office phone booths.
Our Zenbooth Solo is ideal for maximum privacy when making phone calls and working on focus-intensive tasks. The Zenbooth Duo is intended for private chats and meetings between two workers. Meanwhile, the Zenbooth Quad is a huddle room big enough to comfortably house up to six people engaging in conference-style meetings or collaborative team activities.
The idea of an agile layout is to have detached areas where employees can experience some privacy and get away from the noisy clutter of the open environment whenever they need to. Office booths are both an escape and a way to get things done quickly.
In an open office, privacy has a lot to do with how employees are grouped. A random sitting arrangement can be counterproductive, and some individuals may feel exposed and uncomfortable working next to total strangers. An office neighborhood layout should group employees in designated workspaces based on their tasks and roles in the organization.
Think of office neighborhoods as a team-based office style. For example, staff working in the same field or on related tasks can share a common workspace without necessarily owning any specific desks or workstations. This arrangement promotes teamwork among like-minded individuals, and is the closest you can get to separating different departments in an open office.
Office neighborhoods create a sense of community and belonging, stimulating close connections among coworkers. They also promote exclusivity, which, in many ways, nurtures privacy — more so if the office has booths where groups can meet privately and take a breather from the communal workspace.
The Zenbooth Duo or Quad provide the perfect space to setup your office neighborhoods.
Creating Privacy in an Open-Plan Office Calls for Creativity
One of the go-to solutions for bringing privacy in an open office has always been to put up cubicles. But cubicles are uncomfortable, waste space and do not resolve distraction and privacy issues because they can't be soundproofed. An effective remedy requires you to think outside the box and forget about traditional office layouts.
Limited floor space and cost are, in most cases, the main challenges when trying to achieve privacy in the workplace. But with some economic space management, you can take advantage of low-cost office products to completely transform your workplace and give your employees the experience they deserve.
Enhance Employee Satisfaction and Boost Productivity With Zenbooths
Zenbooths are making headlines as one of the latest innovations in helping organizations enhance employee satisfaction and boost productivity in open offices. Our office booths are designed and built to meet the needs of the modern workplace and its staff.
Zenbooths provide a calm atmosphere for individual or group privacy needs. Each booth blocks up to 40 decibels of noise for quality quiet time during exclusive meetings and one-on-one face time. Zenbooths come fitted with active ventilation to keep the interior fresh and cool. They contain an array of connectivity ports to plug in laptops and smartphones. They are also made from durable, easy-to-clean material. The booths take up minimal space in the office and do not require any permanent changes to the room’s architecture.
Get in touch with us to learn more about Zenbooths and how we can help bring privacy, calm and serenity to your open office.