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How to make open-plan offices work?

How to make open-plan offices work?

Open offices have their share of detractors; however, it is also true that when an open-office fails to yield desired results, it is due to faulty implementation, not a flawed concept.

Sukhdeep Aurora, Anarock, Open offices

The best companies attract the best talent, but the talent knows its value and will always have its sights on even better opportunities. This is why a top-ranking company focuses on employee retention at least as much as on acquisition.

It’s given that the best talent is the most productive, and a company’s most productive employees bring personal accountability and ownership to their work because their productivity is closely interlinked with their own career growth within the firm. The onus on the organisation is to do everything in its power to foster employee productivity, satisfaction as well as a sense of belonging and being valued. One of the primary means of doing so is by providing an enabling workplace environment. Adopting an open-office plan is one of the best ways of achieving this.

Open offices have their share of detractors — and, in many individual cases, some objections do have merit — however, it is also true that when an open-office fails to yield desired results, it is due to faulty implementation, not a flawed concept. Companies must acknowledge that employing a cookie-cutter approach and not factoring in specific needs of their business and employees is the incorrect way to go.

Getting the equation right
This helps employees feel unrestricted as well as encourages productive interactions. Getting it wrong results in demotivated, unenthusiastic and downright resentful employees.

Firstly, it is crucial to understand that an open office is not the best choice for all businesses. Employees of software companies focused on gaming or KPO verticals, or even banking firms, for example, may not thrive in such an environment. However, the plan is ideal for companies that are consultative and collaborative. The consulting aspect is not merely an outward function related to clients but also an inward-focused dynamic, involving free exchange of knowledge and information. An open-plan office works precisely in this manner — it encourages interaction, teamwork and free flow of information.

Essential ingredients for success
It’s imperative that an open-plan office doesn’t get congested and that there’s enough personal space. Simply jamming large groups together without a specific plan is counter-productive. The spatial plan must be welcoming, and for this, spaciousness and having the right facilities for different functions to deliver on assigned work is de rigueur.

At the same time, there should be a provision of closed spaces to enable teamwork. Open seating spaces need to be complemented with breakout zones for smaller team and/or client meetings, as well as recreational areas. The plan must also include sufficient close-door ‘phone booths’ to enable an unhindered environment for important or confidential calls.

Another aspect is that different teams have different ways of working optimally. For instance, a research team needs a certain degree of privacy as the research process is intensely academic and often also involves confidential data. Transaction teams, on the other hand, must invariably work in close conjunction with each other, especially in case of multi-platform mandates, which requires involvement of several teams.

From ‘closed’ to ‘open’ — overcoming change resistance
Open-plan offices require a change of mindset, and the senior leadership must lead by example by being the first and quickest to adapt. It is important that the company creates sufficient awareness about the undoubted benefits of the open layout.

Sukhdeep Aurora, chief people officer, Anarock Property Consultants

Human Resources teams can achieve much of this task at the time of recruitment. AVs can explain the philosophy in general and the specific layout to help old as well as new employees grasp its purposes and benefits. Along with these, the organisation must ensure that the office plan remains inherently flexible. The eventuality of future changes must be factored in, during the design stage itself. The company should stay open to suggestions for certain changes from all levels of staff, take valuable suggestions seriously and also implement them. The idea is to not enforce a rigid system but create a wholesome, dynamic work environment that can change to adapt to evolving needs.

Here are some broad-based suggestions on getting the open office equation right:

  • Provide a recreational area and a friendly, welcoming cafeteria. Without these, the space is all about work, which counter-intuitively results in the least productive of work environments
  • Incorporate collaborative spaces into the design — workstations with semi-informal elements like sofas, cushioned high chairs, lounge furniture and roundtables. They help break the monotonous line-seating arrangement, enable informal interactions and collaboration, and create a ‘cool’ work-environment preferred by millennials
  • Ensure availability of adequate natural light and use motion-sensor lights to ensure that the workplace enables productivity while remaining sustainable and energy-efficient

Most importantly, it’s best not to rely on workplace design elements alone, rather support them with engaging initiatives to ensure employees remain enthused and in a positive state of mind. The open-plan model can be ideal for fostering a sense of strength in numbers, and non-work related activities reinforce this feeling and can bring out the best in people.

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