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Is an open plan office the best option for your business?

While open plan offices were originally designed to help improve team cohesion, recent studies suggest it causes more stress due to lack of privacy and increased distractions.

Having worked in both open plan and closed office situations, I have mixed views about what is and isn’t right for a small business.  Having just moved the Next Marketing team into a very open plan office, it’s a decision that I thought about a lot and wasn’t taken lightly.

Open plan offices were originally designed to help improve team cohesion, allow for easy communication between staff members, and increase camaraderie, however studies from the Queensland University of Technology indicate that open plan offices can potentially cause additional stress, due to lack of privacy and increased distractions, and contribute to increased tension and conflict from lack of personal space between employees.

The general design of open plan offices means that employees may feel a reduced sense of privacy and may be uncomfortable knowing that everyone can see what is on their computer screen, and the fact that their conversations are audible to everyone in the surrounding area.

On the flip side, open plan offices are created to allow the easy flow of ideas between team members and in my opinion, the idea of open plan offices makes a lot of sense for occupations such as marketing, which depend on the quick exchange of information.

An open plan office can facilitate communication within the team, and also between other departments, particularly sales, which they may work closely with. From a marketing perspective, to be effective, your company’s brand identity needs to be maintained by all staff, and being directly exposed to marketing-based conversations may be helpful in keeping other staff members aware of the overall message.

I have also noticed that alcoves, or even booths, are being constructed in open plan spaces to provide for quiet conversation and to give employees somewhere to go when they need privacy on the phone, or with someone else.  Also, paying attention to acoustics means that noise levels can be reduced and unnecessary distractions minimised.

If your business has an open plan workspace, you may not be able to completely restructure the physical layout of your office, but is there anything you can do to help improve interpersonal communication your between your employees? Consider creating some private office-type spaces, or providing a lunchroom or other common area with tables, seating and perhaps a coffee or vending machine. Providing staff members a place to interact and relax can help reduce stress levels, improve communication between team members, and increase employee productivity.

The new Next Marketing space is an experiment and over time will no doubt need to be modified to suit our changing needs.

What workspace works best for your business?  Open plan or closed offices?

What do you think?

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Jo Macdermott

Jo Macdermott

<a href="http://au.linkedin.com/in/jomacdermott">Jo Macdermott</a> is the Chief Marketing Consultant at <a href="http://www.nextmarketing.com.au/">Next Marketing</a> in Melbourne. She has 15 years of marketing experience, is a Certified Practising Marketer and is a sought after marketing media commentator. Jo specialises in working with small and medium businesses. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/NextMarketingAU">Twitter here</a>.

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