The Open Office: 8 Tips to Balance the Benefits & Distractions

Tips & Guides /
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The Open Office: 8 Tips to Balance the Benefits & Distractions

Tips & Guides /

Open office spaces have several benefits – well known to both employees and executives. These benefits include increased collaboration, higher team morale, and the constant sharing of ideas.

However, these same characteristics can also lead to employee frustrations. A lack of offices, walls, and doors can lead to higher noise levels, a lack of privacy, more frequent interruptions and little control over the workplace.

So, how do you balance your team’s need for creative collaborations, yet maintain quiet, focused time to concentrate? Here’s a few ways to promote a balance between the benefits and the distractions of open offices:

1. Encourage Remote Employees

If your open office doesn’t include quiet rooms or other areas where employees can get the peace they need to be productive, it may be time to implement new workplace policies.

Keep in mind that “remote” doesn’t have to mean working from home. It may mean letting employees decamp to a nearby coffee shop so they’re still close enough to quickly get into the office for impromptu meetings.

While some teams may require a more formal schedule, other teams may thrive with a more flexible work routine.

2. Examine Popular Gathering Spots

Copier rooms and break rooms tend to be places where everyone naturally stops to chat about current projects, weekend activities, and company news (which, is a great thing)! However, if communal rooms stay noisy all day and cause distractions, it’s time to find a solution.

Workplace Tip: Consider if your office’s natural gathering spots can be relocated, sectioned off, or if nearby workers can be moved to quieter areas.

3. Look beyond your usual team set-up

Companies tend to seat their sales team together, all the marketing employees together, etc., without regard for individual workspace needs. Consequently, talkative collaborators get mixed in with those who prefer to concentrate in silence, which decrease workplace productivity.

Workplace Tip: Consider activity-based workstations, where employees can choose from a variety of environments to suit their working preferences.

4. Provide “Focus Markers” for Employee Desks

Lack of control of the workspace is a common complaint of open workspaces, but simple fixes can make a huge difference.

Help employees feel in control of their work environments by distributing a universal marker – such as a sign or flag – to the entire team. When employees want to be focused, they can display the marker on their desks, indicating that they need privacy. This will discourage employees from “popping in” and interrupting.

6. Consider Dividing the Open Layout

Yes, it’s probably the most expensive option, but if you have nothing but open space, it may be time to budget for adding some walls and doors back into your office.

Consider your team’s needs. Do they want a series of collaboration spaces for groups of two to five people, small quiet rooms for single workers or one big meeting room? What about an old-fashioned phone booth for personal calls? How about benches or tables and chairs outside on a deck?

Workplace Tip: Demountable walls are an easy, sustainable solution to create a more focused environment.

7. Confine Noisy Activities to Specified Areas

If a weekly team meeting disrupts those working nearby, consider moving your meeting outside or some other alternative space. Similarly, if employees tend to congregate in common areas to eat, suggest they move to the designated break room. And, if they’re not eating there already, ask why. The room may not have enough chairs or no windows or otherwise needs changes that will turn it into a natural gathering spot.

8. Schedule a “Quiet Time”

Depending on the type of work your team does, it may help to schedule focused, quiet times. It may be a certain time each day, a single day each week, or even over the span of multiple days if the whole team needs to buckle down and get a project completed.

Workplace Tip: To be most effective, quiet times should be planned ahead of time and clearly communicated in advance to other teams.

9. Filter Workplace Noise

If noise levels are a frequent complaint and moving locations or building out new space isn’t possible, encourage employees to use headphones and add sound-absorbing materials to their workspace.

Workplace Tip: Sound-absorbing materials, such as acoustic panels and carpets, don’t have to be expensive and can significantly muffle noise.

Need help creating a focused, yet collaborative workspace? Contact us for a consultation – we’d love to help you achieve your workspace goals.

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