Gone are the days when offices were characterised by cubicles and areas for each
department were clearly demarcated. The modern workplace allows employees to spot
colleagues from the sofas and desks where they work, and hold quick meetings seated
near the office staircase!
Increasingly more companies today are bringing down walls within the workplace,
literally and otherwise, fostering a culture of innovation, teamwork and collaboration.
By doing away with the compartmentalised set-up, organisations are striving to promote
healthy exchange of information not just between departments, but also hierarchical
According to a recent study by the International Management Facility Association,
about 70 percent of US employees were working in such ‘open’ office set-ups.
So, how exactly are companies adopting this open office approach?
For starters, organisations are doing away with the practice of building cubicles
and cabins and are putting in place ergonomically designed workspaces for employees.
Workers can now sit near the teams they work with in close co-ordination, and communicate
directly with one another, saving on endless emails and calls.
A major advantage of this collaborative set-up is cost-savings for companies as
the need for construction of walls, doors and cubicles is minimised and more individuals
can fit in to a smaller space.
Some companies take this practice to the next level, with bosses settling in a desk
close to their teams. While this practice is not well received by those who feel
that it is merely a method of keeping a check on employees, others perceive it as
a measure to increase approachability and transparency.
In a slight twist to this practice, in the revamped offices of companies such as
Square and Business Insider, leaders occupying standing desks in the middle of the
office are a common sight. The idea is to abolish hierarchies and be more available
and accessible to employees.
Another practice stemming from the open layout plan is hot-desking. Under this practice,
employees do not have an assigned place to work but sit in any place available on
that particular day in the office. While this allows collaboration across teams
and departments, some employees feel a sense of alienation, as they have no place
to call their own. Hot listing may thus hamper productivity as employees may feel
disoriented and take longer to focus on the task at hand.
Open offices boast advantages such as cost efficiencies, transparency and increased
collaboration, but can come at the cost of productivity. While extroverts and the
millennials in the workforce might embrace an open setup, introverts and veterans
might perform their best in the traditional office set-up of cubicles and private
spaces. Some proponents of traditional layouts also highlight the possibility of
more sick leaves in companies, which have open layouts, as higher levels of the
resulting noise tend to increase stress among co-workers.
Workplaces are also turning out to be the reflection of a company’s culture. Companies
like Google and Facebook are the pioneers of promoting open culture, which is reflected
in their headquarters. While most of us can only write on our virtual ‘walls’ on
Facebook, employees of the companies have the opportunity to doodle on the company’s
walls, chalkboards, white boards etc.
As organisations adapt to a contemporary style of functioning, there is no escaping
the open layout set-up. However, they can construct a modern workplace which offers
a mix of opportunities to work in isolation or collaboration. To promote collaboration
and creativity, designers of modern workplaces are all for constructing paths for
employees to run-into one another and designing nimble workspaces. Employees need
not necessarily be stationed at desks or book conference rooms when they need to
hold quick discussions. For example, having a quiet, non-intrusive corner near the
water cooler or printer to take a discussion forward with another team’s member
one might run into can lead to idea generation and quick decision-making.
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