How to Optimize Your Workspace's Open Floor Plan

How to Optimize Your Open Workspace

JUN 07, 2017

How to Optimize Your Open Workspace

The open office plan continues to be the preferred model among modern, fast-paced companies for good reason. The increased need for collaboration coupled with the cost-savings that open workspaces allow for, make them a win-win for employers and employees alike. The open workspace is the ultimate compromise – it trades office cubicles for office comradery, and when done correctly, can create an optimal solution for growing firms.

The floor plan quickly became a favorite amongst millennials, startups, tech firms and now traditional companies as well.

Today, 70% of U.S. offices have some type of open floor plan, but that does not mean it is accepted and appreciated by all employees.

Almost half of employees working in an open workspace felt dissatisfied with sound privacy, and 40 percent criticized the lack of visual privacy.  Innovative companies have taken this feedback, and modified their open workspace to allow for increased productivity without sacrificing employee privacy and focus.

  • Facebook’s newest campus, which is now the largest open floor plan in the world, is a 10-acre single room complete with moveable furniture and houses almost 3,000 engineers. Employees, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg each sit at their own 5ft table, in a pod with 5 other employees. Small meeting rooms are scattered across the space and employees are encouraged to use headphones when they need to focus on a task.
  • One of Google’s flexible workspaces, Google Garage, allows for writing on walls and tables, and everything is on wheels to allow for easy reconfiguration. Google believes that the key to employee satisfaction is providing a variety of spaces within the same environment for different activities. Google has both formal and informal meeting rooms, and even open stretch and yoga areas, supporting its goal of providing employees with a fun, non-hierarchical environment that fosters productivity and innovation.
  • Cisco paired technology with different workspace designs to meet the needs of all employees. Employees can select the workspace accommodation that is most appropriate for the task at hand, for as little or as much time as it requires. Their Connected Workspace plan includes individual workstations, formal and informal collaboration spaces, and quiet spaces. The office is completely wireless and nearly any phone can be assigned instantly via individual login credentials which allows for enhanced mobility.
  • Citigroup recently renovated its Manhattan office and its claim to fame is the daily choice of seating by employees. Not even the company’s CEO has an assigned desk or office, which supports the CEO’s goal of more common interaction.
  • GlaxoSmithKline reportedly saves $10 million dollars per year thanks to their open workspace. The company did away with assigned seating, and allows employees to reserve seating as needed which saves on energy and rent expenses.

So how are these companies achieving such success with open floor plans? They use creative solutions to provide an appropriate workspace for all employees and tasks. They also allow room for employee flexibility. Here are five tips employers and employees can use to ensure collaboration and productivity are maximized:

5 Tips for Employers to Optimize Your Open Workplace:

  1. Create an environment that is conducive to all work styles.  An open workspace that includes semi-private, private, and easily reconfigurable areas where employees can go to avoid distractions, hold a meeting, or have a private conversation is crucial to the success of an open floor plan.  Be flexible and allow employees to work from home as needed.  These types of accommodations support concentrated, deep thinking, and show consideration for both introverts and extroverts.
  2. Set the tone from the top.  Lead by example. Managers should work alongside their colleagues in the open office, not behind closed doors or in separate rooms. This sends a clear message about leadership’s commitment to the open floor plan environment.
  3. Establish office rules. Develop a culture of quiet. Implement a rule that will serve as the universal “do not disturb” signal when an employee needs to focus on a particular task or project.  One of our clients gave out Bose, noise reducing headphones– which employees loved.  This decreases the chance of employees losing focus, and lets them know that it’s okay to block out distractions as needed. Encourage conversations in common areas or private rooms and leverage chat tools like Slack or HipChat as other quiet communication options.
  4. Maintain formal communication channels.  Do not assume people will overhear, or should have to get in the habit of listening to all conversations, to get the information they need. Formal communication is still necessary, regardless of how an office is physically assembled. Even in close quarters, important information for the masses should be communicated via the appropriate channels.
  5. Listen to your workforce. Companies that are enjoying the benefits of an open workspace have tailored their open office environment to fit the needs of both the organization and its employees. Regularly solicit feedback and suggestions on the open office model. Implement creative solutions to achieve optimal results. Consider a formal training about working in open workspaces.  When my firm, Inspire HR facilitates this class we are always struck by how this simple forum opens up the lines of communication and improves productivity.

5 Tips for Employees in Open Workplaces

  1. Utilize your available resources. Not every task or project can be efficiently completed in an open area. If you are working on a task that requires your undivided attention or a large amount of space, use a private area. If you have a laptop, even better — pack it up and relocate within the office. Work from home as needed if this option is available to you. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand, and avoids putting undue pressure on your coworkers to tiptoe around you at your desk.
  2. Construct a door. We’re not suggesting that you actually break out bricks and cement, but create a signal for yourself that communicates to your coworkers when you are unavailable. Consider an away status on chat services to block out distractions. Wear headphones (even if you aren’t listening to anything) to nonverbally communicate that you are unavailable. Remove the candy jar from your desk to minimize uninvited visitors. Whatever sign works best for you, put it to use.
  3. Take breaks alone, as needed. Even if you are an extrovert, an open workspace can be overwhelming. If you feel constantly pressured to socialize, use the opportunities available to you to recharge and get away from the constant interaction with your coworkers. Consider eating lunch away from your desk, incorporating a short walk during your lunch break or taking an afternoon coffee break alone. Book a small meeting once or twice per month, and only invite yourself.
  4. Practice self-awareness. Be cognizant of your own habits which others might find unpleasant and minimize these activities.  You should be aware of how your habits affect you, and also those around you.  For example, listen to your podcast using your headphones. Be as considerate as you would want your coworkers to be. If you are aware of your work style (and as a bonus, also aware of the styles of those around you), it makes it easier to modify behaviors to create the best possible working relationship.
  5. Reconsider your definition of privacy.  Privacy doesn’t necessarily mean being in a closed office, with the blinds drawn. Give some thought to what privacy you need, and how you can achieve it. Need to talk to family during the day? Consider a text instead of a phone call when appropriate. If you work in a modular space, position yourself opposite of the flow of traffic. Try adding a plant or bookshelf to your workspace. Even a small item can provide a form of privacy for you without distracting your coworkers.

With an open mind, an open workspace can be the ideal floor plan for many organizations. Ideas can be generated and executed more quickly, and communication is greatly improved when dividers are removed. It can also have a tremendous impact on the company’s bottom line. Most importantly, the cost of these benefits does not have to be lack of privacy or a distracting environment. Flexibility from both the employer and employee can make this concept the ultimate workplace solution. The tips included here will help you to customize your organization’s workspace to fit the needs of all employees and foster an innovative and accommodating atmosphere.

I would love to discuss how to maximize your productivity and morale in your open workspace. Feel free to reach out to Inspire HR at