Your Open Floor Plan Office Space Is Negatively Affecting Your Team

Open floor plans are synonymous with hip, disruptive startups. Unfortunately, they can also be terrible for morale and productivity.

When we tried to make an open office work, we soon realized our employees were more irritated and distracted than before. We used our experience from that experiment to build an office space that worked for everyone without sticking them into a cubicle farm. 

Open-Office Failures in the Wild

 The BBC recently ran a story about the pitfalls of open offices, specifically at a company called Wildbit. 

Per the BBC, while 70 percent of U.S. businesses have moved to a variation of the open office, those companies struggle compared to their competitors. “Free-range” employees are more likely to get sick, be less productive, and be less happy than their closed-off counterparts.

Chris Nagele, founder of Wildbit, thought moving his entire work from home team into an open office would facilitate collaboration. Instead, it became an unavoidable distraction and made everyone — Nagele included — grouchy. Three years later, Wildbit moved to a new office and gave each employee a door to shut out the noise. 

Tips to Build a Better Office

If you don’t want to force everyone into cubicles, but also don’t want to see your workforce suffer in an open environment like they are bound to do, heed these three warnings.

1. When Everyone Can See Everyone Else – They Can Also Distract

Five people in a common space isn’t a problem. As that number climbs, however, people begin to chat more and work less — even when they want to be working.

In our open floor plan office, whenever a group gathered to collaborate, they attracted the attention of anyone within earshot. By 2 p.m. on Friday, anyone who didn’t book a conference room might as well have been working in a bar at happy hour.

Even passive interruptions can interfere with work. Per the Wall Street Journal, frequently interrupted employees report higher exhaustion rates and more physical ailments than those who are sheltered from the peanut gallery and can concentrate alone in peace.

The best solution for unchecked distractions is a personal escape. Whether it’s an office, a breakout room, a cubicle, or simply a desk, all employees need access to some kind of personal space where they can escape the crowd and get things done.

2. Negative Vibes Spread Quickly

Bad attitudes spread faster than positive ones. One experiment found that planting a negative teammate in undergraduate business groups dropped their performance by more than 30 percent compared to their peers.

Rather than try to combat human nature, build systems that account for this challenge. Each person’s space should have a maximum of a dozen other people within sight or earshot. The most cramped spaces can be made manageable by dividers, partitions, and false barriers.

Even a bead curtain with a picture of a peace sign is better than nothing. By physically marking barriers, you can limit exposure to negative attitudes and address the issue before it spreads to the whole office. 

3. Cultural Misunderstandings Increase

Multiple new hires unfamiliar with company culture don’t function well in open offices. Without guidance, your new hires could get a warped perception of how your team solves problems together.

For instance, we have a couple employees who work well together, but could appear to be in a heated argument to someone unfamiliar with their banter. A new employee who witnesses that kind of interaction without proper context might assume aggression is the way of life in an otherwise relaxed office. 

Avoid misunderstandings by creating rules to respect privacy. Set up a system of sticky-note alerts to limit interruptions or give everyone a flag to raise when chat isn’t welcome. 

People crave other people. Don’t fight it, but structure your office to facilitate productivity more than distraction. By following these tips and giving everything a time and place, you can keep your team on track without locking them in cells to do it.

Photo Credit: mindshareworld Flickr via Compfight cc

Social Privacy: Workplace Myth Or Reality?

It’s no secret most of us either live on social media channels or have at least one profile available online.  It’s no surprise at all. So what is surprising about social media? Is it how we use it for entertainment? Building business leads? Or how recruiting has adopted talent acquisition through social networks like LinkedIn? It’s no longer a shocker that recruiters analyze our social media profiles and pass a quick assessment of whether or not we’re viable candidates. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The rabbit hole goes even deeper.

Organizations go as far as to monitor what your social activities online. It may never stop as the world becomes more socially invested. It’s eerie to think that your employer may be checking up on your “private life” on Facebook. There’s also the concern about what proprietary information is being freely clicked away or if any badmouthing of your company or employees is taking place.

Never the less, workplace privacy issues have to be dealt with. It’s a must these days.

Here are 5 suggestions:

1) Be careful before you check! There are multiple ways your employer can legally spy on you. Some organizations have tightened up their Internet usage polices. You need to read and understand what your organization’s rules are before you mistakenly violate any of them. It’s even gone as far as pressuring employees to sign strict policies that allow companies the legal right to access and monitor mobile devices.

2)   Have a firewall. You need to know where to draw the line. Employees need their privacy. It’s important and it matters to them. Nobody likes that big brother feeling. Drafting a lawful social media policy that maintains company goals and permit employee-protected activities.

3)  Be an example to all. Leaders need to set the tone. Engaging in social media means opening up, being transparent, and fostering communication to improve results. You don’t want to be an “oversharer” when conversing in social media, but you should show personality.

4)   Keep it cool. Social media and people are becoming one. Technology allows us to emerge ourselves into this giant digital world of social connectivity. It’s meant to be fun, engaging, and insightful. Don’t let company guidelines destroy the influential power it can have.

5)   The truth will set you free. Don’t let things go unsaid if you’ve done something that breaks company policy. This goes for employers and employees. It’s possible someone will make a mistake and break a social media rule. The best thing you can do is say what’s happened and move forward as quickly as possible.

Rules are changing. Privacy no longer has the same meaning as it once did. New boundaries have risen and it’s important to know where they lie.


Photo cred: BigStockPhoto