Why open-plan offices may have a detrimental impact on productivity?

Why open-plan offices may have a detrimental impact on productivity?

A report by Godrej Interio finds the workplace’s secret to engaged and happier employees

Benefits of social offices, Godrej Interio, Workspace design trends

Close to 65% of Indian offices, including government organisations, currently utilise open workspace layouts, which have become extremely popular over the past decade. They were seen as catalysts for better communications, collaboration, problem-solving and idea-generation among employees. Having said that, contrary views also exist about the utility of open-plan offices.

Recent studies have shown that such an environment might also potentially create a degree of disruption and distraction in the workplace. Organisational psychologist Matthew Davis concluded that open-plan offices may have a detrimental impact on the attention spans of employees, lower productivity and creative thinking, and possibly hurt overall employee satisfaction.

Despite the fact that there are pros and cons, organisations vigourously turned to open-plan offices. The question that is oft asked is: Is there a way to harness the benefits of the open-plan offices without falling prey to its drawbacks? This report by Godrej Interio takes a look at the special challenges of modern offices, and how social offices offer an attractive way to address those challenges, drive productivity and make employees happy.

Special challenges and their impact on employees
New-age business environments see fierce competition, high customer expectations and technology-driven disruptions. These challenges can be surmounted, the study finds, by empowering and engaging employees to bring innovation, creativity, productivity and high-quality delivery. It is, therefore, imperative to provide the right working environment that enables employees to be productive and innovative in the quest to achieve organisational goals.

All individuals are different, have their own preferences of work environments, different tolerance for factors such as noise and interruptions. Hence, the impact can become significantly more difficult to predict, when one considers the complex combination of factors at play in an open-plan office. Knoxville-based University of Tennessee, USA, studied over 38,000 employees and concluded that interruptions negatively affected employee productivity, and that the more senior the employee, the worse the detrimental impact. This study makes it clear that a one-size-fits-all workplace can more often fall short of the specific needs of most employees. The issue gets more complicated when one considers that a majority of offices today follow a templatised format of workstations and discussion/conference rooms with no allowance for the specific needs or preferences of the employees that are expected to function optimally in them.

Organisations enthusiastically embraced open-plan offices with fewer areas of individual work in an attempt to provide an open work dynamic, while also keeping real estate requirements under check. But data suggests that the move may bring its own challenges as well.

This Godrej Interio study surveyed over 100 organisations and their employees to derive clear insights. The research suggests that employees need more privacy, not just to work with full concentration but also to centre themselves to deal with the intense pressures of the modern workplace. It found that 61% of Indian employees said they needed a place to concentrate without distractions, and 56% said their office lacked such spaces. About 29% felt the need to have collaborative spaces and 15% preferred to have a zone that would help them relax and rejuvenate in the office. Additionally, distractions at work leave people with less time to work — 11% got only about 15 minutes at a stretch without any interruption, 24% got up to 30 minutes, and 18% got up to an hour of uninterrupted work. These findings make it clear that allowing space for the individual aspirations of employees will help them be highly productive.

Social office
Respect for the individual’s workspace coupled with flexibility is key to office design. Obviously, different work demands different kinds of spaces for focus and collaboration, comfort as well as physical and mental wellbeing of the employee. Another key consideration of office design is that the workplace is no longer just a place of work. Majority of employees spend the greater portion of their waking hours at work. This is also how work relationships become social relationships and bonds of friendships develop. Given this dynamic, the workspace must factor in employees’ need to relax, unwind and connect over casual conversations. Office design must enable the users to collaborate as a team or move to the refuge of a cosy space when the work demands individual focus.

Flexible settings, which allow people to shift easily from a team zone to an individual zone, are the need of the day. These enable employees to immerse themselves in their work, wherever they want, whenever they want. Simply put, a physical workplace that offers a diverse set of choices for individual work needs is the answer. Every office should balance spatial design with primary, interactive and rejuvenation zones — in line with the cognitive requirements of users to allow them to immerse, interact and unwind.

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison.” – James Cash Penney, founder, JC Penney.

These could be places that allows one to hide away when they have serious work to do without interruptions. They politely say “don’t bother me” while giving users the physical and headspace needed to be productive. This zone is ideal for work that demands controlled attention, a need to contemplate, create and focus intensely.

These spaces are intended for meaningful conversations, planned team meetings, ad-hoc brainstorming sessions and serendipitous encounters with other teams. They create opportunities for a free flow of ideas and lay the foundation for invaluable connections both inside and outside the organisation. Any space where employees can meet and work effectively together is ideal for interaction and collaboration. These spaces can be informal with a big table in the break room or formal with a walled conference room.

Spaces that allow downtime for the brain and body leads to better outcomes in terms of improved concentration, productivity and motivation.

A social office is one that allows this flexibility and provides the ideal zones to immerse, interact and unwind.

Benefits of social offices
The beauty of this workplace lies in its variety. It offers a good balance of ‘me’ and ‘we’ spaces — different types of work environments that employees can use to do their work. It encourages collaboration and brainstorming as well as counterbalances that by facilitating private meeting areas and quiet spaces designed for privacy and a distinct lack of distraction.

The feel of home at work
The lines between the home and the office have blurred. The ubiquitous availability of mobile technology coupled with the ‘always online’ mentality has extended the workday for employees, making home-like office environments essential. These need to be warm, comfortable and functional enough to enable employees to think on their feet as well as put up their feet when needed. Home-like environments — soft, bright and colourful — also help teams foster a rapport that makes thinking and creating together an energising experience.

The role of technology
With enhanced technology in place, employees no longer prefer to work from just their desks, considering they are connected 24x7. A study by Godrej Interio found that, on an average, people work on at least three devices during a day. Close to 40% of the surveyed employees expressed a need for workspaces that allowed them to connect to their devices from anywhere in the office. Seamless connectivity for devices was cited as one of the top requirements for any offices.

Consequently, as mobile devices multiply, the need for comfortably placed power outlets is a pre-requisite. Offices, therefore, need to be designed by factoring in how people need to work with technology, even in the rejuvenation zones. Power points can be embedded in the furniture or placed conveniently to ensure people can choose to work where they deem fit.

The focus on health
Godrej Interio’s Ergonomics Team studied the effects of static postures among office goers in India. It revealed that many employees suffer from multiple pain problems — 76% complained of musculoskeletal pain in the last six months. Other worrying statistics included that 64% of the employees surveyed spent over nine hours of their time sitting either at their own desks, in meetings or in conferences. The long work hours, static posture for long stretches of time and the common workplace design that doesn’t require people to walk around much, are a threat to employees’ health.

This supports the need to have office designs that allow movement, interaction, sitting postures that help break the monotony and provision of spaces to relax during short breaks while at work. The ‘social office’ addresses all these needs. It adds to the typical concept of an open-plan office, and includes elements — such as pouffes, stools, enclosed seating, sofas, armchairs, etc — that encourage changing of postures and help users stay energised, refreshed and engaged. This creates a sense of comfort and belonging within the workplace while maintaining its functionality. Work continues seamlessly, without compromising on employee wellbeing.

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