How to Improve Employee Experience in Open Offices

June 16, 2017

How to Improve Employee Experience in Open Offices

In some ways, the rush to implement open office concepts has brought on a “best of times, worst of times” scenario at many organizations. Consolidated, shared spaces have enabled companies to cut real estate costs while promoting transparency and collaboration in all aspects of how work is done.

However, there are some well-known issues associated with the reduction of private space. Office-based employees moving into open spaces fear negative impacts on their performance. The breakdown of boundaries raises concerns about scheduling, seating, and status in the workplace. In a flexible work environment, workstations can go unused, while conference rooms frequently end up being either booked but unoccupied or occupied without being booked.

The organization of work is evolving so rapidly—and in so many different ways—it’s difficult for people to feel comfortable with the ongoing changes. But there are practical steps employers can take to improve their workforce’s experience in open, shared, or office hoteling scenarios.

Why Companies Are Embracing Open Offices

A 2013 Building Operating Management survey on changes in workspace management found that 44% of respondents had reduced the number of private offices in their space during the past five years, citing a variety of reasons:

  • Consolidating space (58%)
  • Reducing costs (57%)
  • Changing corporate culture (46%)
  • Improving communication (40%)
  • Modernizing appearance (34%)
  • Going “green” (27%)

Among companies that had “opened” their workspace, only 14% reported that employees were immediately supportive of the change, while the majority, 57% said their workers were wary. However, 53% said their employees seemed neutral after settling into their new open workspaces, with the rest split relatively evenly between happy and unhappy.

How the Pace of Change Is Accelerating

A 2015 survey by the International Facility Management Association found that 58% of companies said they had increased the number of people working in “unassigned” or “collective use” spaces. In fact, the U.S. may still be behind the global trend toward open offices. A global survey of office workers by Steelcase and Ipsos found that 48% of U.S. employees reported having the freedom to choose where in the office they wanted to work—compared with a 51% average across 17 countries represented in the survey.

In 2016, interior design firm Ted Moudis Associates released an analysis of 39 office-design projects covering 2.5 million sq. ft. and more than 17,000 total workspaces in the financial, professional services, consumer products, and digital media industries. Open workspace accounted for the vast majority, 89% of the total—and 67% of those open workspaces were shared through “desking/benching” schemes.

These findings show how organizations have accelerated the deployment of open-office concepts in recent years. But employees are still adapting to changes in how and where they’re expected to work.

Top Employee Concerns About the Open Office Trend

The BOM survey identified five common employee concerns related to the elimination of private offices:

  • Acoustics/distractions (63%)
  • Loss of perceived status (63%)
  • Insufficient space for storage (46%)
  • Insufficient work area (37%)
  • Loss of privacy (17%)

The obvious trade-off when moving from private offices to shared spaces is that collaboration and communication are easier, while it may be more difficult to focus on individual projects. However, both types of work are critical for modern workers. Contrasting research findings from an architectural firm and a furniture creator illustrate the complexity of finding balance in the workplace.

Gensler’s study found that workers in 2013 spent 54% of their time on work requiring individual focus, up from 48% in 2008. However, Herman Miller found the opposite was true over a longer timeline: there has been a “seismic shift toward collaborative work in the last 30 years.” The company’s research showed that the amount of individual output that depends on working within a group increased from 30% in 1985 to 80% in 2010.

Improve the Employee Experience With Conference Room Scheduling Software

Advances in mobile technology and cloud computing have been critical to the growth of the open office across all industries. To take full advantage of the benefits of flexible workspace, employees need 24/7 access to cloud-based resource scheduling software  so they can easily book meetings rooms and other assets whether they are in the office, at home, or on the move.

In addition to meeting rooms, workers will ideally have access to other private or quiet spaces where they can focus on individual projects, meet with a small group—or simply take a break. The ability to find and reserve a particular space from a mobile device enables employees to work wherever they’ll be most effective, helping the company get the best return on its real estate investments.