The open-plan office has long been considered the superior workplace model, lauded for its ability to facilitate communication, idea sharing and problem solving. The popularity of the open-plan office is evident, with 70 percent of U.S. offices currently utilizing open workspace layouts. However, there might be a new office design trend overtaking the American workplace: the balanced workspace.
Office design – and indeed, productivity itself – is not one-size-fits-all, and recent studies have shown that, despite the hype surrounding the open-plan office, this type of work environment might actually create disruption and distraction in the workplace. Additionally, open-plan offices can also increase the spread of illness, create more stress, decrease creativity and productivity and even lower employee morale.
In 2011, organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than 100 studies about office environments to look at the effects of office design on employee productivity and morale. Davis noted the benefits of the open-plan office, touching on how an open workspace did indeed foster a symbolic sense of organizational mission that made employees feel like part of a laidback, innovative enterprise. However, the drawbacks of the open office were far more noticeable than the benefits, as Davis noted that open-plan offices were actually damaging to workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking and overall satisfaction.
In another survey of nearly 38,000 workers, researchers found that interruptions by colleagues (a common occurrence in an open office) were detrimental to productivity and that the more senior the employee, the worse they fared in getting back to work after a distraction.
Open offices eliminate an element of control for employees by homogenizing their work environment. By providing a variety of different types of spaces in your office, employees will regain that control and be more productive because there will always be a space that suits them, regardless of their work style or the type of work they are looking to accomplish.
Just as there are different types of learners, so, too, are there different types of workers. There are those who can quickly re-route their attention back to their work after a distraction, and there are those who are drastically affected by interruptions. There are those who need complete silence to be productive, and there are those who prefer music or the quiet din of the office to silence when they work. Different work environments are required for different types of workers, and the balanced workspace just might be the answer to meeting the needs of workers with different work styles and preferences.
The beauty of the balanced workspace lies in its variety. A balanced workspace is one which offers a number of different types of work environments that employees can use as they please to facilitate their productivity. A balanced workspace can feature open work spaces to encourage collaboration and brainstorming, but those areas should be counterbalanced by private meeting areas and quiet spaces categorized by privacy and a distinct lack of distraction to suit those employees looking for a space to do intense, focused work.
The key to productivity for office design just might lie in variety, and variety is the core facet of the balanced workspace. As the open-plan office continues to expose its shortcomings, the balanced workspace might become the latest trend in office design as office workers continue to look for new and better ways to maximize their productivity and stimulate their workflow.