Sunday, 3 April 2011


When choosing how to plan the office, you are faced with the decision of an open plan or separate offices. This is a difficult decision for many, and there are advantages and disadvantages of both.

Open plan offices are more economical. You are able to provide more work spaces and put more employees in an office. Studies have been done to show that the open-plan working area is more productive.

First of all, communication is obviously easier between departments. There is no time wasted between offices because everyone is in the same area. Employees would save time in not having to send e-mails or going to other offices to discuss work-related matters. Besides, it seems that this integration would bring a sense of team spirit that the old concept of closed offices certainly didn’t. It was a symbol of status and hierarchy. Open-plan offices make it more democratic, while everyone is working together as a real team.

Things are easier for the supervisors, as everyone is in a centralized area. It is also easier for the manager or boss to keep an eye on everyone to check what they are doing and how they are doing their work.

Normally, with an open office plan, managers and senior managers are in constant contact with the staff. With the employees being in constant contact with managers and senior managers, they are able to reach management more quickly and deal with issues. This means that issues get resolved faster, and this leads to more productivity.

Open space offices are more economical when it comes to money that is spent with air conditioning and electricity. This is opposed to several different rooms, each having to be heated or cooled separately. This means that the company saves money.

However, open space offices are noisier and can be more chaotic than closed plan offices. Employees are in one large area, and phone conversations or conversations between employees will be overheard easily. When there are several conversations happening at one time, it can get quite noisy. This can lead to employees becoming distracted which may lessen productivity.

Privacy is difficult to obtain with an open office plan. If family members call, or if a confidential call needs to be made, it can be difficult. With individual offices, these things are more possible. Employees may feel uncomfortable being in such close quarters with their coworkers when confidential calls need to be made.

Senior staff or employees, which have been with the company longer than most, will feel as if they deserve a private office. This can cause problems among the employees, which can damage productivity and employee relationships. It is hard for older generations, who were used to the idea of a private office as a symbol of status, get used to the concept of democracy and team spirit of an open-plan office.

Another practice in workplaces, mainly in the US and in some countries in Europe, is hotdesking, sometimes known as ‘location independent working’, which is a relatively new practice in the workplace. In this system workers do not have their own desks but choose a different space to work in each day. The idea was implemented in many companies, such as IBM, American Express, Intel and Google for many reasons.

According to Tim MacVoy, head consultant at Martin Coaching, in New York, the idea of hotdesking was to make employees break their routine, interact with new employees every day, and from a different angle – since they will sit in a different desk every day their view of the office will be different every day bringing a fresh view of the company and perhaps of the problems.

Hotdesking works best with a company where a lot of staff are out of the office most of the time - sales, for example. In this case, staff has no real need for a permanent space.

However there is the issue of territory - hotdeskers may be irritated that they have no personal space in their working environment. While some workers care about their own space – where they put pictures of their children or personal items – others do not care at all, absorbing the idea that hotdesking is to break the routine: Where am I going to sit today? Who will be sitting next to me? Will I be able to have a window view this time? Is it close to the restroom?

Because hotdesking means you no longer have a desk of your own, you turn up each day and take whichever desk is available.

Having a different desk, and perhaps different chair, every day has a couple of disadvantages. Firstly, you need to adjust the desk and chair to suit you, adjust the height and angle of the monitor, and move the keyboard and mouse.

Besides, hotdesking produces another disadvantage: people never know where to find you. This leads to visitors walking around the office asking for you and getting mixed answers. However, this also produces another advantage: having to walk around the office makes it a much more interactive working space, perhaps meeting and talking to co-workers you have never even known anything about, as a complete stranger. Such working practice proved very positive in large companies as a way of meeting, talking and socializing with co-workers.

Companies need to choose which working practice suits them better. What is surprising is how generations react to them. It is no surprise that Gen Y reacts quite positively in both open-plan and hotdesking practices while older generations are much more reluctant to accept new practices.

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