Do the revelations about the workplace from the “The State of the Open Office” Research Study by Stegmeier Consulting Group (SCG), sound familiar in relation to your open office? Workforce resistance to open office layouts has been well-documented, and the pervasiveness of this topic requires comprehensive analysis to understand the various factors contributing to employee willingness or reluctance to working in an open plan. SCG created “The State of the Open Office” Research Study to serve as an instrument to measure workforce, organizational, and geographical sentiments and trends for open office layouts.
Using data-gathering software, the study elicited information from anonymous respondents representing 20 industries across six continents. Participants were invited to provide feedback regarding their concerns and enthusiasm for the open office layout, current workplace configuration, forthcoming workplace transformations, and expected organizational trends for those forthcoming workplace transformations.
Workplace: Common workforce concerns of open office layouts, in order of frequency cited, include audible distractions(33%), lack of audible privacy (25%), and uninvited interruptions (19%). The study also indicated an increase in executives and leaders using open environment work settings, and altogether forgoing the privacy of a private office. Thus, the workstation shift taking place across many industries is affecting all levels of organizations, and walls are coming down in offices around the world.
Changes in office geography
“The study also uncovers a correlation between respondents who reported recently having moved to a new office environment and their concern over uninvited interruptions”, says SCG’s CEO and founder, Diane Stegmeier. “The pre-move concerns of audio distractions, audible privacy, and visual distractions shifted post-move due to poor adoption of the new behaviors that were deemed necessary for the workforce to function effectively. This trend was universal, regardless of the respondent’s geographic location. SCG also validated the notion that open office concepts are most prominent in Europe, and then (decreasingly prevalent, but still popular) in Canada and on the U.S. East and West Coasts. Further, study participants from Latin America, South America, and Asia all documented an expected increase in the introduction of the open plan to their workplaces. Overall, SCG expects a general reduction in private offices and assigned cubicles, and an increase in individuals sitting in an open plan in their future office settings.
The State of the Open Office Research Study was created with the intent of conducting sentiment analysis for open office concepts, and evaluating trends and patterns regarding concerns and excitement for this type of office layout.
The Stegmeier team’s analysis revealed a correlation between respondents who reported recently having moved to a new office environment and their concern over “uninvited interruptions.” For those respondents, “uninvited interruptions” rose to the second-highest concern, replacing “audible privacy.” Our experience providing change management support for clients’ workplace transformation projects reinforces the importance of developing workplace protocols well before the transition to new ways of working, educating the workforce on the etiquette, and setting the expectation that end-users are empowered to reinforce the appropriate behaviors among their peers.
Implementing an open office is driven by the business objective to increase communication and collaboration. It should come as no surprise that employees new to this type of environment are more visible, and thus deemed more accessible by their coworkers. The most successful design solutions for new work environments provide the right balance between encouraging team collaboration while providing opportunity for individual concentration.
SCG took a closer look at the 10% of respondents that chose “Other” and found that 21% of these responses had ‘no concerns’ about the open office.
To those organizations considering a transition to an open office environment while targeting a significant reduction in real estate footprint, one best practice that Stegmeier Consulting Group recommends that clients adopt early in the transformation process is an enterprise-wide effort to reduce employees’ reliance on paper, files, and other materials. Unlike activities that must be carefully orchestrated to coordinate with the construction process, a purging initiative or clean-up campaign can be kicked off long before announcing key decisions related to the real estate project.
Breaking down walls
Whether an organization’s goal is to bring employees together, infuse a workplace with more natural daylight, make more efficient use of a real estate footprint, or all of the above, project teams have recognized the benefits of a more open work environment. As a result, high-walled offices that once lined the perimeters of floor plates are either moving to the center of the workspace, or being removed completely.
Additionally, individual contributors are not the only members of the workforce who are having their workstations converted to a more open office environment.
Executives and leaders have also found that sitting amongst their direct reports in an open environment has increased communication, camaraderie, and a sense of teamwork within their groups. The workstation shift taking place across our participants’ industries is affecting all levels of organizations, and walls are coming down in offices around the world.
At right, you’ll see a breakdown of how the open office shift is affecting all levels of the workplace hierarchy. You will notice that future workplaces will predominantly feature open plans for individual contributors and mid-level managers. Senior leaders and executives are also beginning to shift more towards unassigned or ‘free-address’ workspaces in the open environment.
On the brink
Office transformations are becoming increasingly popular for myriad reasons, and particularly those transformations leaning toward open office concepts.
The shift toward more open office environments is impacting the types of solutions being provided by architects, interior designers, furniture manufacturers, and corporate real estate brokerages. Aside from the positive collaboration and communication attributes of open office concepts, these designs and workplace strategies also typically afford better access to natural daylight, a greater focus on employee wellness, reduction in corporate real estate costs, and optimized work settings to support the employees’ varied tasks.
Almost half of our study participants indicated a shift to a new work environment occurring within the next 18 months.
Stegmeier Consulting Group (SCG) created The State of the Open Office Research Study to serve as an instrument to measure workforce, organizational, and geographical sentiments and trends for open office layouts.