How to Solve the Inherent Flaws of Open Office Design

Adapting Open-Plan Designs for Success

The now infamous Google offices have generated substantial debate over the years between office design experts. The futuristic design, characterised by ping-pong tables, restaurants within a few hundred yards and THAT twisting slide, create this utopian image of office design from the outside. Visitors have often gawked at the freedom afforded to employees and envisioned how such a design could be implemented within their business. A post from Lindsey Kaufman has re-surfaced in the past month which her frustrations with open office design. Back then it was an upward trend, but now it has become the norm.

Stating that Google ‘got it wrong’ I would consider being an exaggeration. However, the blueprint they created has been haphazardly applied other workspaces which are often significantly smaller. The Google offices are admittedly open, but what makes these offices unique is their flexibility. Having 31.79km2 at the Googleplex ensures there is abundant space for, quiet zones, gyms, cafés and the rest. Even relatively large businesses who take up multiple floors in tower blocks cannot hope to rival the flexibility that the Google model provides. As Lindsey found out, the result was a mess – neglecting factors which ultimately harm employee productivity and health.

Modern Office Design - Photo Courtesy of: K2 Space

Modern Office Design – Photo Courtesy of: K2 Space

The Problem with Proximity and Personal Space

Before we had the open-plan office, white collar workers endured the cubicle design often for the entirety of their working lives. When this was created, it promised to give employees privacy whilst enabling employers to cram them in like a well-played game of Tetris. Surprising really, that it took half a century to modernise such a flawed design. A simple combination of flimsy partition screens which did very little in the way of reducing audible or visual distractions. Interruptions caused by colleagues chatting, phones ringing and people passing through not only harms productivity but it triggers frustration, stress and the myriad of health issues that can result from the two.

The open office designs which we see created in the Google-style simply remove the screens and fail to address any of the issues which were harmful in the first place. For example, it’s rare for most businesses who design their own office to consider the acoustics of the area. The soundwaves reverberating from colleagues and their devices is incredibly unpredictable. This leads to persistent interruptions which are incredibly harmful to productivity. Hard surfaces such as hardwood floors and painted walls can look sublime, but they reverberate sound around the room causing it to echo. Instead; carpets, acoustic wall panels and acoustic screens should be considered to help keep ambient background noise to a minimum.

Transforming an Open Office Design into a Flexible Design

If there are multiple rooms available, then a flexible workspace is far more achievable. With all the detrimental issues associated with sitting at a desk for multiple hours a day, there has never been a better time to create an office which provides employees with freedom. Laptop computers are the key tool here (assuming they are required). Their versatility means that sitting at a desk all day is a thing of the past. Deadline approaching and you need space to focus? Take a seat in a designated quiet zone. Looking to collaborate while working through your tasks? Head over to one of the communal areas. Holding a meeting to discuss ideas as a group? There are dedicated spaces for that.

This freedom of movement is successful in several ways, but critically it appeals to a diverse workforce. We may hold ‘collaboration and innovation’ as our mantra, but throwing people together is not a guaranteed way to succeed. While some may excel in this style of an environment, others will feel overwhelmed. This risks alienating them further and creating a new batch of problems. Office design must consider the concept of introverted and extroverted workers, who are unique in their own rights and excel in contrastingly different environments. What you don’t see in the glamorous videos of the modern office is those tucked away in the corner, happily working away without the hustle and bustle of the open office.

Tailoring the Google Blueprint for Personal Use

When considering office design, it’s important to remember that most of the major corporations will have contracted expert interior designers to create a tailored office design. Their blueprints will take everything into consideration; aesthetic, acoustics, practicality and logistics. So, if you are looking at going down the same route, then I’m surprised you have made it so far down the article. Instead, where we see many shortcomings is when smaller businesses go it alone. They often adopt a lot of the stylistic choices on available, while neglecting many of the smaller factors which can make these areas so effective.

To begin with, the most important factor to consider is the opinion of those who already work there. What environments do they feel comfortable working in? What works about your current office design and what does not? What would they like to see? People can be resilient to change, so creating a design which is going to maintain harmony after the refurbishment is extremely important. Then you can begin to tailor the design based on your requirements. Which layout will work best? Is it possible to create different working areas with different conditions?

Before jumping ahead to pick out fabrics and colours, there is still the all-important factor of acoustics to finalise. If you have a large, busy office, then the noise is likely to be a concern. In situations like these, we would recommend using soft fabrics throughout to absorb some of those soundwaves. To protect yourself against any future issues then looks towards acoustic screens and acoustic wall panels to help control the ambient background noise.

The Finishing Touches

Then, and only then is it time for the fun stuff. Office design is far more meticulous than meets the eye, and sloppy designs will only hamper productivity. A complete re-design is often only done every five years or every decade or so. Therefore, investing the time into getting it right will stand you in good stead further down the line. Many businesses appear to have gone gung-ho in the open office craze in recent years, which has led to feelings similar to those expressed by Lindsey Kaufman. While that opinion is shared by many, it does not have to be the case when working in an open office. Careful consideration for the office design can make a substantial difference to the productivity and wellbeing of those working within them.

Acoustic Screens - Office Design

Acoustic Screens – Office Design

Go Displays are expert manufacturers of office partitions and acoustic pods. With over 40 years of experience in the industry, we have extensive insight into how to create an effective office design. For further information on the services we provide, please call 01733 232000 or send an e-mail outlining your enquiry to sales@go-displays.co.uk.

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