Tag: open plan

The open-plan office is here to stay and as we move closer to Corporate Wellness Week, taking place from 2-6 July, there is no better time to reflect on how distractions such as noise in the office contribute to decreased productivity and general office unhappiness.

“I love working in an open-plan office and feeling connected with the team,” says David Fish, MD of local office furniture and accessories manufacturer AngelShack. “One of the key selling points of open-plan offices is that they foster collaboration, communication and sharing, encouraging teams to work together on projects to a far greater degree than they would if confined to their own cubicle or office. However, while the positives are undisputed, there are certain factors, such as noise, that make working out in the open somewhat challenging and which have to be taken into consideration,” adds Fish.

“Noise is the second most common complaint in offices worldwide,” says Lauren Clark, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, manufacturers of acoustic ceilings and wall panels. “Research shows that sound is one of the main contributors to employee dissatisfaction and studies have found that open-plan offices can reduce productivity by up to 15% because of increased noise, interruptions and a lack of sound privacy.” According to Clark the sources of office noise are varied – from the hum of air-conditioning units to outside traffic, cell phone ring tones and, most notably, colleagues’ voices.

“There is plenty of research showing that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations,” says Julian Treasure, chairman of United Kingdom consultancy, The Sound Agency. “We have bandwidth for roughly 1.6 human conversations. So if you’re hearing somebody’s conversation, then that’s taking up 1 of your 1.6. Even if you don’t want to listen to it, you can’t stop: You have no earlids. And that means you’ve just .6 left to listen to your own inner voice.”

Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) tell us that the average person spends a third of their adult life at work, which is why it’s so important that we are able to function to the best of our ability while on the job. According to Clark, research also tells us that in a noisy environment the performance of complex tasks is 50% less accurate than in more quiet spaces.

But since many office spaces worldwide already use open-plan or shared office spaces, organisations can’t easily shift or respond to employees’ concerns. Instead, the onus is on employees to find solutions to office sounds or lack of privacy.

Sound solutions

Fortunately there are a variety of ways in which to combat the negative effects of noise on the workplace – from building materials such as acoustic ceilings, to double-glazed facades, screens and even office furniture that buffers the transfer of sound and provides a measure of acoustic privacy.

To counteract the detrimental effects of noise in the workplace AngelShack, game-changers in the business of innovative, award-wining office furniture, has launched two sound proof booths to which employees can retreat to escape the din in the office.

“At AngelShack we’re in the business of challenging conventions,” says Fish. “We don’t sell office furniture, we provide workplace solutions for the office of tomorrow, including innovative products such as the Focus and Speak Easy booths that address issues of employee wellness and access to privacy as well as the need for confidentiality in the workplace and at the same time noise reduction.”

Here are Fish’s five tips, suggestions and design solutions for ways to reduce noise in the office work space:

1. Get focussed: AngelShack’s Focus Booth is a fully enclosed capsule that offers solitude from a busy work environment, making it perfect for confidential phone calls and one-on-one meetings. The booth, which is lined with acoustic foam, features a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control. Temperature is the most common complaint in offices worldwide

2. Plants, Plants and More Plants: Well-placed plants have proven effective in reducing noise levels in an open office setting. The larger the plant means the bigger the impact, not to mention the obvious aesthetic benefits and overall impact on air quality.

3. Time out to talk: AngelShack’s Speak Easy Booth is another total-privacy solution that employees can use to make calls without outside interference. The booth is lined with acoustic foam, a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control, plus a handy shelf for pens and notebooks.

4. Listen to the waves: If you can’t control noise propagation in the office by traditional acoustic control measures, today’s electronics offer new possibilities. One technique is to introduce random, natural sounds to the workplace environment that obscure or “mask” the sound of distracting conversations.

5. Design Thinking: Clever design principles that allow for sound absorption and diffusion are key. Spaces need to be properly planned in terms of where to position noisy spaces versus quiet spaces, and the introduction of buffers such as acoustic partition systems, screens and facades that prevent noise transfer from one space to another.
There are many factors to consider when looking at acoustic solutions to combat the negative effects of noise in the workplace, says Clark. “My shout out to designers is for them to be mindful of the performance criteria of different products, so that they can make informed decisions about which products and materials deliver an acoustic solution that works from both a visual and audio perspective.

“Nature and the outdoor environment are far more comfortable from an acoustic point of view than indoor spaces and the trick is to bring this insight into our design of indoor spaces such as offices now and moving forward,”concludes Clarke.

Image: AngelShack

By Sarah Wells for TechCrunch

If you’re endlessly distracted by your co-workers in the gaping open office space you all share, you’re not alone. Compared to traditional office spaces, face-to-face interaction in open office spaces is down 70 percent with resulting slips in productivity, according to Harvard researchers in a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B this month.

In the study, researchers followed two anonymous Fortune 500 companies during their transitions between a traditional office space to an open plan environment and used a sensor called a “sociometric badge” (think company ID on a lanyard) to record detailed information about the kind of interactions employees had in both spaces. The study collected information in two stages; first for several weeks before the renovation and the second for several weeks after.

While the concept behind open office spaces is to drive informal interaction and collaboration among employees, the study found that for both groups of employees monitored (52 for one company and 100 for the other company) face-to-face interactions dropped, the number of emails sent increased between 20 and 50 percent and company executives reported a qualitative drop in productivity.

“[Organisations] transform their office architectures into open spaces with the intention of creating more [face-to-face] interaction and thus a more vibrant work environment,” the study’s authors, Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, wrote.

“[But] what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

While this study is far from the first to point fingers at open office space designs, the researchers claim this is the first study of its kind to collect qualitative data on this shift in working environment instead of relying primarily on employee surveys.

From their results, the researchers provide three cautionary tales:

  • Open office spaces don’t actually promote interaction. Instead, they cause employees to seek privacy wherever they can find it.
  • These open spaces might spell bad news for collective company intelligence or, in other words, an overstimulating office space creates a decrease in organizational productivity.
  • Not all channels of interaction will be effected equally in an open layout change. While the number of emails sent in the study did increase, the study found that the richness of this interaction was not equal to that lost in face-to-face interactions.

Seems like it might be time to (first, find a quiet room) and go back to the drawing board with the open office design.

Open plan layouts are the Marmite of the office

Open plan offices are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. And they continue to strongly divide opinion in the workplace.

But one thing is for sure, they are likely to be around for a while as businesses struggle to balance the tension between the need for immediate collaboration and the demand for individual, quiet spaces where people can concentrate.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that his company continues to install both open plan offices and private office spaces in equal measure despite the growing global pushback against open plan.

“It’s a horse for courses situation. There is no cut and dried winner in the debate. It really does depend on whether open plan is best for your employees and the way they work rather than a philosophical debate.”

Andrews does acknowledge however that there is a growing body of recent evidence that shows open plan makes it harder to work.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that studied 40 000 workers in 300 US office buildings concluded that enclosed private offices outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of Indoor Environmental Quality – namely in acoustics, privacy and proxemics (how uncomfortable people feel when forced into close proximity to other people) issues.

Said Andrews: “Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.”

Another study by SP Banbury and DC Berry showed that loud noise has become one of the greatest irritants at work. It revealed that 99% of employees reported that their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background. A further study showed that 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sounds levels rise above normal conversation level.

Even employees at Apple, which just spent $5 billion and six years building a centralised campus around the open-plan office concept, are reportedly dissatisfied. Some are said to have insisted on their own space outside of the new spaceship style building.

“But, just like a taste for Marmite, many businesses have a definite passion for the lack of walls or other physical barriers in open plan offices.

“Open spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis. The constant intermingling not only generates a sense of camaraderie, it also enhances the flow of information and teamwork.”

Andrews noted than another benefit which may not immediately spring to mind is that of budget.

“Having an open plan office can save the company money, as costs are reduced on construction, utilities and office equipment. It is more efficient to have everyone in one room in terms of utility bills and office supplies. It also provides the best flexibility to accommodate extra capacity for when the company grows as desks can easily be reconfigured.

“It really comes to how your company works best,” Andrews concluded.

Follow us on social media: 

               

View our magazine archives: 

                       


My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Top