Are Open Collaborative Offices Really the Solution?

Seemingly everywhere, a new start-up opens its doors to new employees, boasting about open office space and a collaborative environment. These open office plans are a newer trend, and the idea is that employees can share more time together, encouraging more brainstorming and creative flow.

It sounds great in theory, and this type of office does work for some people. However, not every office finds success in this model. If anything, the advertisement of an open office and the adherence to such an environment may alienate employees more than include them. Let’s explore why this happens.

Open offices encourage collaboration and groupthink, but what about the equally valuable employees who don’t thrive off of interaction with others?

Employees can’t be expected to share the exact same personality traits. Some employees are more introverted than others, and often this sort of personality does not thrive in groupthink environments.

Introverted employees do their best work solo, although being a team player is still a skill that can be improved. Of course, in any collaborative environment, there will always be a need for employees to step out of their comfort zones and get involved. However, simply expecting an employee to thrive in an environment in which they are uncomfortable is not an empathetic approach.

So what can be done instead? Open offices offer a lot of space such as communal tables or shared desks. While this can be a productive environment for some, there should also be some space set aside for private, uninterrupted work or quiet study.

Even the most extroverted and collaborative employees can benefit from time spent on their own, focusing on one task at a time rather than constantly receiving feedback from colleagues or superiors.

Consider implementing “solo” or “quiet” work hours throughout the workday if private space is not readily available in the office. These hours can be utilized by employees to focus on one thing at a time and on completing tasks solo. These hours can also be very helpful to the employees who tend to be more introverted and who do their best work on their own.

Placing every employee into a box won’t help a company succeed. Rather, each individual must be treated as such. This isn’t to say that each employee should have his or her every whim catered, but allowing employees to have a say in their work environment can often boost productivity and morale better than most other options.

Not sure if an open office is the best? Solicit feedback from both current and prospective employees on what assets of the work environment are best for them. Perform exit interviews with departing employees to find out what their thoughts are as they end their time with the company.

Feedback is vital to employee productivity and morale, as the more of a voice employees feel they have, the more likely they are to be more personally invested and empowered in their work.

Open office plans may be trendy, but it’s unknown how long the trend will stick. In the meantime, coworking companies such as WeWork have implemented several different options when it comes to office space. Members at WeWork can select a shared desk, a single desk, or even their own office. This environment, serving up more of an “a la carte” option for workers, provides options for every personality type.

Consider creating more of a hybrid space if the open office isn’t quite working out as hoped. And remember: every employee is different, and this is important to recognize and incorporate into any strategy as it deals with productivity.

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