Goodbye to ear plugs – turn your open-plan office into a multi-space office

A lot has been said about the disadvantages of open-plan offices.

Both research and people working in open-plan offices say that, depending on the day, working conditions in open-plan offices are either bad or even worse, especially in terms of the ability to focus on tasks. The noise can be disturbing even if you wear ear plugs or listen to soothing music on your headphones.

It is essential to invest in proper acoustics planning and to consider the purpose of the various spaces, especially if the tasks performed in the office require undivided focus. Repeated interruptions or a noisy environment significantly disrupt work. It takes time to get back into the flow of working after being interrupted, and this also reduces employees’ resources and productivity.

A study carried out by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Turku University of Applied Sciences and Turku University found that the most common noise to cause disturbance was other people talking. Noise was much less of a problem in open-plan offices with good acoustics. At best, less than 20% of employees experienced noise pollution in offices with proper acoustics solutions.

When the acoustics are good, speech can be heard clearly at five metres from the speaker, and people can have a conversation without disturbing others, while in environments with poor acoustics, you can distinguish what is said from 20 metres.

I’m sure that many people working in open-plan offices hope that the entire space could be completely rearranged. But though the idea of starting with a clean sheet and new space solutions may sound attractive, this is not always possible – or even necessary.

The first thing is to consider is whether the existing space could be improved to better suit the employees’ processes.

The starting point for the design of the work environment should be the company’s strategy and objectives as well as the requirements and processes included in the employees’ job descriptions. For example, the spaces that best support the financial administration and sales functions are distinctly different. A private room can be the best environment for some tasks, while there are other tasks that are easiest to perform in an open space.

Of course, there are many tasks for which the best facilities vary. As mobile working is becoming more common, there is less need for assigned workstations. In practical terms, this means that spaces can be divided into smaller areas, some of which are designated quiet areas while others are set aside for tasks requiring interaction.

Employees can then choose the environment that best suits the task at hand. Examples of the various areas include desks located at a picture window for those who require inspirational views, a lounge for casual meetings and meeting rooms for in-depth conversations.

This kind of modern office is known as a multi-space office and, as the name suggests, it offers different spaces for different tasks and needs.

The best way to make the premises match the employees’ needs and processes is through optimal sound management using the latest suspended ceiling and wall system solutions, though modern multi-space offices also require space-in-space solutions. These small spaces are a quick and easy way to improve working conditions in an open-plan office.

A phone booth, small meeting room and other types of pods are solutions that significantly calm down the work environment.

A phone booth ensures that you can have a conversation in private, while a small meeting room allows a few people to gather for a meeting, or you could also have a video-conferencing room with all the equipment required. All of these soundproof solutions are quick and easy to set up, and they guarantee that you can handle phone calls, meetings and conversations in a disturbance-free environment while also ensuring that those working in the surrounding areas are not disturbed.

Carefully designed spaces and good acoustics solutions do not necessarily guarantee, however, that a multi-space office will be comfortable and practical. It is also necessary to ensure that communications function flawlessly everywhere in the office – a pod with a weak internet connection is likely to remain empty.

You should also keep in mind that the functionality of a work environment is determined by its users. It is recommended that you draw up a set of clear, jointly agreed rules to establish a framework for the purposes and functions of the various areas in the multi-space office.

When designing solutions for offices, you should always make sure that they meet the users’ requirements. A work environment that supports employees’ processes is the perfect setting for productivity and job satisfaction. To achieve this, it is best to design the office in a way that adapts to the users’ requirements and not vice versa.

Want to talk about improving your work environment?

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