The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

The New Office: How Far Should You Go?

Some changes to the office layout may increase productivity among employees. But be careful not to go too far!

The world of work is changing, not only in the type of work and worker needed – but the actual physical environment in which it gets done. The new workplace is no longer based on office space and cubes, for many of us it’s based on technology, open spaces and a place to play. According to the International Facility Management study in 2014, 70% of offices are based on open space. More important to consider is the reduction in square feet per employee of total office environment which has seen a reduction from 225 square feet per person in 2010 to 190 square feet in 2013. A recent prediction indicated that this could go as low as 100 square feet per person in 2017. This reduction is good for the cost of office space, but how does it impact your employees?

Work environments internally are changing as well. While we see a reduction in the space per employee, we see more space being devoted to casual and collaborative work then ever before. Employees are encouraged to step outside their workspace and brainstorm with each other. Does it really make sense to have a ping-pong table in an accounting office? Think of the time you had a team that couldn’t solve a clients issue and you sat in an office brainstorming ideas? Now think of the number of the ideas you have come up with watching TV, on your morning run and even in the shower? When we allow ourselves to turn-off… somehow we actually turn ON. Give your team the freedom to let loose, and see if you don’t find the same benefits.

However, when we look at the ability of the work environment to create casual spaces, be more open and allow freedom, we have to consider if we have gone too far. This may work for some – but many tasks require concentration, and many introverted professionals prefer solitude in their day. Constant interaction isn’t for everyone and every task. A great infographic that looks at the downside of open office space was recently shared with me by San Diego Office and Modular Design.

In my last year in a “traditional” job we were moving to an open office structure. I told my division manager that I spent the majority of my day discussing confidential issues, coaching and mentoring employees and I just wasn’t comfortable having these conversations out in the open. His solution was that I could move to a conference room anytime I needed privacy. And now I must be honest… I really just felt at this point in my career I wanted a private office. There were just times in the day that I needed to be alone with my own thoughts and conduct private business without the feeling that everyone knew what I was doing. After 25 years moving up the corporate ladder – hadn’t I earned that? I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking.

The work environment is changing, but we have to keep an eye on what is appropriate and expected as well. We have to ensure our teams understand that a right of management is no longer the office with the view if that isn’t available. At the same time, a valuable trade off may be that the managers get increased flexibility as to where they work– but the environment in the office is to work alongside their team. There are benefits to business in both the cost of real estate and the idea generation that can be fostered if we start to break down the walls and work side-by-side with our teams, but don’t go to far. Consider your workforce, expectations and the productivity you need and then create the work environment that will support the ultimate goals of your business.

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