Open plan is shutting down conversation – the need for unified communication

by Communications & Collaboration 08 Feb 2019

Recent research has put into question the value of the open plan office and its effect on worker collaboration. But the conversation has moved on. It’s not about the nature of the space but how it is utilised and managed to accommodate more ways of working.

Open space offices don’t improve collaboration

If you were working sometime in the 80’s and 90’s you might remember the days when the key to success was getting that coveted corner office. In fact having any office with a door that shielded you from your fellow workers or subordinates was a real win!

Times changed and it was determined that a better way to foster teamwork and collaboration was to embrace the open plan office. The cynics among us also noted that it was possible to get more bodies per square metre once you did away with office walls.

Lately, however, the effectiveness of open plan work environments is being re-evaluated. In the recently released “The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration,” researchers found that when corporate workspace utilisation transitioned to open office spaces, face-to-face interaction decreased by approximately 70% while electronic interactions increased. They concluded that “rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from office mates and interact instead over email and IM.” While we can debate the validity of these findings based on our own experiences, the fact remains that removing a few walls does not, on its own, improve interactivity, connectivity and collaboration between workers.

Enabling face-to-face and virtual collaborations

It’s also worth noting that the way we work and use our work spaces has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Modern offices need to accommodate many different work styles: from those that work in one location, to those that work in many, to those that never set foot in the workplace at all. Even for those who do mostly work from a designated office building, there’s much more movement and freedom to set up shop in different spaces, in meeting rooms and even at the cafe next door. With office space accounting for the second highest operational cost in most businesses (after salaries), efficient workspace utilisation is vital. Not solely because of the cost, but also because it can impact the productivity and effectiveness of your workforce.

Also, consider that the new open office space is not just the physical space – it’s the virtual space as well. Even amongst co-workers sharing the same floor, great work and collaboration can occur virtually via the cloud. To truly manage and utilise your workspaces effectively, it's important to accommodate and enable collaborations that occur both face-to-face and virtually both across the floor, between offices or across the globe.

New workspace management designs

Designing for effective workplace utilisation starts with understanding your workforce and what kind of environments will enable them to do their best work. Empowering your collaborative workforce to support their needs and work styles will go a long way to achieving this. For example, creating “huddle” (small) meeting spaces that are outfitted with technology and can integrate mobile devices can enable agile teams to meet regularly and problem solve more easily.

Integrating workplace management technologies, such as meeting rooms, desk booking solutions and visitor management tools, can streamline the work environment and save your employees time and hassle.  With the addition of sensor technology and monitoring solutions, you can also track overall workplace utilisation that can reduce operational costs and maximise the utilisation of your workplace.

Unifying communications

To truly manage your workspace it’s important to have a unified communication solution that brings your workers together wherever they are – be it in the same office or across the globe. Unified communication technology securely and easily connects anyone, anywhere, at anytime and on any platform. Coupled with an integrated ICT eco-system designed to handle the collection, storage and access to digital content, you can even take flexible group collaboration to the next level. Keep in mind that these solutions aren’t just for remote connectivity: they also improve efficiency and enable better collaborations and data retrieval for your in-house, office-based workers.

Interactive whiteboard and smart print solutions are the final piece that completes a truly unified communication solution. By enabling workers to capture and document their collaborations and ideas in real time and then share them virtually, these solutions are the ultimate conduit between physical and virtual workspaces.

So instead of contemplating the various pros and cons of an open plan office, perhaps it’s more apt to consider what you hope to gain by changing to an open plan? If your aim is to better connect workers so they can freely collaborate and innovate now and in the future, then you may be better off accommodating the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce. Good workplace management and utilisation today is as much about the virtual environment as it is about the physical. So forget about open plan office and concentrate on creating a truly connected office.

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