4 steps to a more accommodating office environment

  • When designing open offices, companies can sometimes overlook tools and other accommodations employees need to work effectively.

  • Workers who engage most often with coworkers inside and outside their teams are generally more productive.

  • Online resources and a dedicated company rep can help establish protocol for behavior and interaction in an open-office environment.

Love it or hate it, the open-office concept is here, and some companies are trying it out.

The numbers tell the story. About 70 percent of U.S. companies have adopted some form of open workspaces, according to the International Facility Management Association, mainly to cut real estate costs and foster employee collaboration. The trend will continue in coming years as employers try to attract and retain millennials—a group that prefers working collaboratively.

But today’s workforce comprises four generations, including many who hate the noise, distractions, and lack of privacy that characterize some open offices.

Here are four strategies that can help counter those complaints and create collaborative environments that increase worker satisfaction and productivity.

1. Create opportunities for collisions. One of the main purposes of open workspaces is to promote interaction between employees on the same team and in different groups. Studies from MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory show that teams with the highest engagement and energy outside of meetings consistently achieve higher productivity. Try these tactics to increase face-to-face encounters:

  • Increase the size of break rooms and cafeterias.
  • Decrease the number of coffee and snack stations, but make them bigger.
  • Schedule employee breaks at the same time and encourage communal breaks.

2. Give workers what they want. When designing open-office floor plans, too many companies fail to give workers enough options and tools to work collaboratively and quietly. Here are a few ideas:

  • Increase the number of wireless access points to ensure robust connectivity throughout the office.
  • Establish enough quiet rooms and spaces to accommodate people looking for privacy, and to hold planned and spontaneous meetings. Be sure to include collaboration tools so employees can communicate with others in and out of the office.  
  • Provide movable office furniture, away from workstation areas, to accommodate small group gatherings.
  • Create online resources, and assign someone from human resources to help establish protocol.

3. Turn down the volume. About 40 percent of workers—including boomers and millennials—say noise, including low-volume conversation, is the biggest problem in an open office, according to the Journal of Environmental Psychology. These solutions can help minimize it:

  • Acoustically enhanced booths provide portable and attractive quiet spaces.
  • Sound-masking systems use a combination of technologies to cover and dampen background noise.
  • Professional Bluetooth and wireless noise-canceling headsets block ambient noise and clarify speech.

4. Encourage good manners. The same guidelines used for other communal spaces also apply to open offices.

  • Use headphones when watching videos or listening to audio.
  • No loud conversations or outbursts.
  • Odors travel as much as sound in an open office. Go easy on the perfume, fragrant lotions, smelly foods, and other scents.

A final key to a productive open work environment is to make sure employees have the collaborative communications tools and devices they need to collaborate with their colleagues, in or out of the building. Learn how AT&T Unified Communications solutions and services can support your anytime, anywhere open-office approach.

Jeff O’Heir is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for leading IT websites. He frequently covers the impact of emerging technologies on businesses. All opinions are his own. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.



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