Open-plan office, private office or a mixture of work spaces?

They say that everything changes but change itself.

The principle behind office design and construction used to be such that every room needed four walls, one door, and one or two, sometimes three, desks. At some point, the walls were removed and the open-plan office was born.

Fixed walls were replaced by screens and light partitions, which were thought to offer savings in office space costs. It was presumed that people would work more efficiently if they could communicate more easily.

In practice, however, the situation turned out to be quite the opposite: it transpired that an open-plan office was anything but the ideal space for most office-based tasks. It was the least suitable space for tasks requiring concentration and peace and quiet or tasks that involve talking, for example making telephone calls.

People who work in open-plan offices often feel that the one factor that disturbs them the most is noise, which is most often caused by co-workers conversing either in person or on the phone. This clamour decreases efficiency as the noise may reduce efficient working hours by one hour per employee.

In addition to other people’s voices, noises such as the clack of shoes, hum of devices and a spoon jingling against cup can put an increased strain on employees’ brains. The stress and the resulting exhaustion show as functional changes in the brain: memory deteriorates and concentrating on tasks becomes more difficult. In Finland, for example, more than a quarter of employees suffer from exhaustion symptoms at some stage of their careers, and for 2-3% of them the symptoms are severe.

Symptoms of exhaustion caused by difficulties in concentration together with colds and other infectious diseases that spread quickly in open-plan spaces increase the number of sick days taken by employees. The cost savings attributed to open-plan offices are quickly lost in reduced efficiency and productivity as well as the poorer quality employee wellbeing.

Open-plan offices, thus, have their problems. Many employees do not like them, and, consequently, they do not feel that they are able to offer their best.

So what is the solution? Should we burn the screens, erect fixed partitions, spend a couple of months in temporary offices and return to brand new private offices like those that were all the rage in the 1990s?

This might be an overreaction; a more economic and cost-effective solution would, of course, be to improve the open-plan office.

There is some truth in the idea that people are more productive in open-plan spaces than in fixed and closed offices. For this reason, the best solution would be to create an office that combines elements from both the open-plan office and private office to create a multi-space office that provides a variety of spaces for different tasks.

The multi-space office is the modern office solution. Multi-space offices typically have open spaces for teamwork, library-like areas for quiet tasks, soundproof booths that offer privacy for telephone conversations, meeting rooms of different sizes and, sometimes, break out areas with couches for brain-storming. There are no assigned workstations but employees can choose the space that best suits their task at hand.

Soundproof quiet pods are a convenient and cost-effective way to convert an open-plan office into a multi-space office. The flexible solutions are quick to install and immediately ready for use and do not require the office space to be renovated.

When designing new premises, it is advisable to take adjustability into account from the start so that the offices can be smoothly adjusted to meet all future requirements of different activities and jobs since – as mentioned earlier – everything changes but change itself.

Soundproof mini offices quickly turn an open-plan office into a multi-space office.

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