Many organisations have created an open workplace with the aim to increase collaboration between workers. Companies got rid of walls, doors and cubicles to introduce an open plan layout. Although embraced by some, in a lot of cases the open workspace has backfired. On the one hand it invites people to interact with each other, but in turn it increased the noise.
Noise is probably the most prevalent annoyance source in offices, and can lead to increased stress for occupants¹.
Noise is probably the most prevalent annoyance source in offices, and can lead to increased stress for occupants¹. Sounds like ventilation, phones ringing, people talking on the phone, conversation and laughing as well as teams working in the same room can lead to some serious noise which is distracting when you want to concentrate on the task on hand. Once interrupted from a difficult task by unwanted noise it takes almost 15 minutes to regain concentration.
62% of workers are bothered by the lack of privacy². Speech privacy is a big issue, when everything is “out in the open”. Office workers complain about intrusive phone conversations as well as the fact that it is impossible to have a conversation without being overheard. The lack of privacy increases stress and can have a negative effect in people’s health.
So, should we be get rid of open plan layouts altogether? No because there are lots of strategies to decrease disruption in open workspaces.
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Designers recommend three strategies for achieving a non-intrusive level of speech privacy. They include absorption, through acoustical ceiling, fabrics and carpet, blocking, through furniture system, panels, walls, partitions and screens, and covering with the help of sound masking.
All workers are different, some are extroverts, and others are introverts. One way to cater for different styles of working is to make sure that people are sitting near those with similar work patterns or subjects of study.
Clever layout is another approach. The key is to offer a mixture of spaces that allow individuals and teams to move throughout the day and pick the space that is most suited for their task. Creativity and collaboration require the ability to retreat and connect. It means providing a mix of open and closed spaces, lounges and soft seating areas, conference rooms and break rooms. This flexible work layout can even introduce policies for employees to be able to reserve quiet space and collaboration space. Some spaces can even be designated “quiet zones” or “tech-free zones”.
(1) + (2) Mix Interiors, Spotlight on Wellbeing, 2015