Find the ‘Qi’: Privacy-Communication Balance in Open-Plan Offices

The open-plan office space is not a new concept – it was originally introduced in the 1950s in Germany as a means to encourage open collaboration between workplace colleagues. In Singaporean office spaces, more and more businesses are choosing to make the switch to an open office plan for several reasons: Besides encouraging collaboration, they can help maximise the space available by eliminating dividers and private offices.

Open-plan offices are not without its flaws. While creative tech companies such as Google swear by its positive effects on their productivity, other companies lament the fact that it also seems to encourage more distractions at work. Most complaints are about the lack of privacy and how it seems to amplify noise.

So how will you know if an open office plan will work for you?

Create a Mix of Spaces

When it comes to open-plan offices, the actual planning is a crucial part of everything. Even though open offices are designed to take up the maximum amount of floor space, you will still have to give your employees ample space for their various activities.

One of the reasons why some people dislike open-plan offices is that it can still sometimes feel cramped. Sitting elbow to elbow with the person behind you may create friction between employees.

To avoid this, consider creating a mix of spaces that will give your employees some respite from each other. You can keep the floor plan open, but create clear boundaries between each space – for example; you can create a phone booth for calls, a conference room for open collaboration and an entertainment room where people can take a break when needed. This way, you can minimise noise and distractions.

Your Seating Plan Matters

One of the issues in open office plans is something called the ‘spillover effect’. This is when one person can affect the mood and productivity of the people around them. According to Bloomberg, there are two types of employees: high productivity employees who produce lower-quality work, and lower productivity employees who produce higher quality work. Use the principle to your benefit.

What you would want to do is to seat opposite types of worker beside each other to improve the workflow. The two opposites will complement each other, while two of the same type can cause dips in either productivity or quality.

It is true that an open plan office is not for everyone, but if you can go about it in a strategic manner, you can reap its benefits just like many other companies.