How to make open-plan office work?
The workspace in the form of open-plan office has not enjoyed a good reputation in the recent years. Instead, it has elicited the vast amount of controversy. Articles in the foreign and Polish press demonstrate that it is very difficult to work in such an interior. Will we witness the revolution in office design? Despite ongoing polemics, the majority of big companies all around the world still use that solution as it is economically viable. The discussion of the disadvantages of open-plan office has turned out to be very necessary and fruitful because the existing problems have been diagnosed and the design methods have been changed. Thanks to the development of neuroscience, which architects find very inspiring today (neural architecture), we learn more and more how our brain works, however, despite our best efforts, we still have not found a solution that would be ideal for every company.As a result, we design offices which are a combination of all types of spaces – to work with others (open-plan office), to work alone, to hold meetings or to rest. A flexible office presents its employees with a variety of options concerning choosing the right place to work, depending on their needs.
Advantages of open-plan office:
- economic use of space
- quicker information exchange between employees
- favourable conditions for teamwork
Disadvantages of open-plan office:
- lack of privacy (being constantly visible and heard)
- feeling of insecurity, territory being invaded (physically and acoustically) by others
- stress and feeling of insecurity
- trouble getting focused
- low work efficiency
- higher risk of spreading viral diseases
Own territory and sense of security
Humans are considered “territorial” creatures and their attitudes towards space can be best described by one sentence Winston Churchill once said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us”. Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist who developed the concept of “proxemics”, made a lot of research about relations between people and their personal space. In his opinion, the basic human need is the sense of security. We feel secure when our personal/social space is not entered by others without our permission. Psychologists and evolutionary biologists emphasise that a major disadvantage of open-space office is the lack of such a personal space, which causes the lack of privacy. To know you are constantly visible can be really tiring and stressful for employees. We all need a little while for ourselves and a moment of rest from the contact with others.Those needs can be addressed by introducing into office interiors special walls or screens that divide desks. Mobile walls enable employees to control the situation. If the situation calls for it, employees can separate themselves from others. Open-plan office is becoming more diverse than it used to be. There are some places in an office where you can isolate yourself, work in silence or simply rest ( rest zones, quiet rooms, phone booths, and niches). Sofas with scaled backs or the so-called “balloon chairs” can give employees a substitute for desired solitude as well as isolation from the bustling office.
The biggest enemy of work efficiency in open-space office is noise. The sound of unwanted conversations of people near you, footsteps, office equipment – all of that creates a sound wave which is tiring, stressful and could be a distraction to employees. Office acoustics is a critical issue while designing modern offices. This problem could be solved by means of very many sound absorbing materials such as: acoustic ceiling panels, fabric wall panels, soft furniture, floor covering, carpets, curtains, fabric walls, and acoustic shutters for office furniture.
Acoustic curtains and nature sounds are also used to help to relax. Plants in pots, plant stands or green walls can improve office acoustics to a great extent.