The End of a Controversial Era: Is the Open Office Dying?

The End of a Controversial Era: Is the Open Office Dying?
By Sammi Caramela,

Over the past decade, many modern offices have transitioned from private to open, with a floorplan free of cubicles or closed workspaces, and lined with shared tables. According to an infographic by Sage on open office plans, 80 percent of U.S. businesses implement this type of layout, including Apple, Google and Facebook.

Open offices can be a great setup for many companies, depending on the structure of their team and the nature of their work. A more collaborative workforce, for instance, is typically more successful in this environment than an independent one.

Like any office structure, there are pros and cons to the open office. According to Flame Schoeder, ICF-credentialed life coach, success in this layout depends on the type of worker.

“I’ve noticed that it is hardest on introverts, those with sensitive nervous systems and those who tie their self-worth to the status of a ‘corner office,'” she said.

However, on the other hand, the open office breeds more collaboration and stronger bonds, Schoeder said.

“This increases everyone’s innate sense of accountability in their culture, which can make it easier to solve problems and get work done,” she added. “There can also be a more casual connection, and therefore more authentic, between bosses and employees.”

The open office has become the norm for most businesses, in an effort to create a more inclusive, cost-effective workplace. But this layout has also received backlash, with many workers feeling less productive and less valued – and more insecure and distracted.

In fact, a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, & Health found that “employees working in small or medium-sized open-plan offices consistently reported lower levels of job satisfaction, subjective well-being, and ease of interaction with co-workers than employees working in cellular or shared-room offices.”

Additionally, Sage reported that in open offices, productivity is reduced by 15 percent, sick days are increased by 62 percent and distractions are increased by 54 percent, impacting even the highest-performing employees. These findings show an alarming disconnect between preferred office layout and employee efficiency and happiness.

Does that mean the open office is dead? Not necessarily.

Despite its downsides, the open office plan is still valued by many leaders. However, it certainly has its issues – and they’re worth factoring into your decision.

“Each organization … needs to think long and hard about whether [an open office] works with their culture and what they hope to achieve before committing to it,” said Schoeder. “It’s a commitment of more than just construction costs. Whatever is in your culture will be amplified by taking down the walls.”

There’s much controversy regarding the workplace of the future, with many workplace experts predicting an end to open offices, and others claiming it will remain the preferred (and most affordable) option. There’s no way to know for sure; but if the workforce does shift its preferred office plan, it will be for good reason.

How to Stay Productive in a Loud Office

How to Stay Productive in a Loud Office
By Sammi Caramela,

Have you ever had to reread a passage over and over because someone near you was speaking too loudly for you to concentrate? Or perhaps you’ve tried (and failed) to write a paper in the presence of a chatty friend. If you’ve been in situations like this, you know that noise can greatly affect performance.

Productivity dips by up to 66 percent if you can hear someone talking while reading or writing, according to a TED blog post. This is especially evident in the workplace: If your office is open and filled with loud workers, you probably don’t get as much work done as you could if it were quieter.

“Noise and interruptions definitely affect productivity and increases employees’ stress, increasing blood pressure and heart rate,” said Dr. Jude Miller Burke, workplace psychologist and author of “The Adversity Advantage: Turn Your Childhood Hardship into Career and Life Success” (Wisdom Editions, 2017). “It is the rare individual who can day after day, hour after hour, focus well with a constant hum of background noise.”

It’s easier to focus when you can hear your own thoughts over the cacophony of an entire company. But sometimes, you don’t have a choice – you’re trapped in a rowdy space and expected to get your work done regardless.

So how do you confront the issue?
1. Wear earplugs or headphones.

Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job” (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), noted that earplugs are one of the best options for workers who are easily distracted. They drown out background noise and help the brain concentrate.

You can also play music through your headphones, Taylor said. Depending on how sensitive you are to noise, mellow tunes can actually help the mind stay on task. Create a playlist that suits you and listen to it when the office is particularly loud. You might even find yourself feeling more inspired or happier while listening to music.
2. Locate a quiet room.

Often, open workspaces are to blame for frequent conversations and sometimes even personal phone calls. While the layout might encourage collaboration, it can hinder productivity, said Taylor. If you can’t focus enough to get your work done, see if you can locate a quiet space that is not in use to complete particularly intensive projects.

“Find a conference room or empty office that you know isn’t off limits [to use] as a safe haven when you absolutely need quiet time,” said Taylor.

Additionally, certain times of the day might be louder than others. You can plan your assignments according to the volume of the office.

“Keep all your strategic and deep-thinking projects to hours of the day when it’s most quiet,” said Taylor. “For example, handle more transactional activities when the noise level is higher.”

If there is a particular day where the volume is at its peak, more thorough tasks can be scheduled in the separate room. Even if you have to share the space with another worker or two, it will be less noisy than the entire office.
3. Confront the issue.

When all else fails, be upfront. Executives especially should step up, taking aside those who are causing the distractions and being honest with them before it gets out of hand.

“It is up to the leaders in the organization to set the culture for the department, and it is best if the manager can set very clear expectations on unnecessary noise,” said Burke. “Initiate dialogue each week about the noise level and encourage people to discuss it openly at staff meetings. Set the expectation that if someone is being extra loud with personal phone calls, jokes or daily gossip, that you should ask that person directly to be less noisy.”

If you feel uncomfortable confronting a co-worker, you should confide in a supervisor, explaining that the noise issue isn’t personal, but you can’t perform to your highest potential because of it. Burke recommends explaining that with clear direction from them, the whole office could be more productive.

“Maybe it would be worthwhile to discuss the noise level and creative solutions in a staff meeting,” she added. “You may be surprised as to the unique solutions that might come up that could be helpful.”