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By ClarkPowell September 03, 2019

3 Solutions for the Most Common Open Office Challenges

Simple fixes can help mitigate the downsides of open office layouts.

There are some trends—think wearing your overalls backwards or feathered bangs—that don’t deliver the benefits or cool factor one might have hoped. When it comes to office layouts, the open office design is a once-hot trend most businesses—and employees—are ready to leave behind.

why open office layouts don't work

Open office floorplans gained favor as a way to increase collaboration while saving on real estate costs, but in some cases, they’ve had the opposite effect. For example, a study conducted by Harvard Business School researchers found that open office plans reduced face-to-face interactions by 70 percent. Here are some other common problems brought on by open office layouts.

  • Distractions increase. An open office layout means it’s hard to avoid hearing other people’s conversations, and it’s easy to have your concentration broken by people walking back and forth past your desk. Nearly half of employees say distractions inherent in the open office design impact their ability to concentrate, and more than half of employees point to co-workers talking loudly or interrupting them as the main source of distractions.

  • Productivity and collaboration decrease. Instead of fostering more face-to-face interaction, open office layouts are proving to have the opposite effect. In many cases, employees worried about the lack of privacy in open offices are more likely to email co-workers than pop over for a chat, driving in-person interaction down instead of up.

  • Employee wellbeing suffers. Open office layouts are meant to create a laid-back, less hierarchical atmosphere, but employees who work in cubicles are less active and more stressed than their counterparts.

how to fix your open office layout

So, what should companies that have invested in an open office design do? First off, don’t panic and start building walls. There are some easy—and cost-effective—ways to maximize the benefits of open office layouts while minimizing the most significant downsides.

  1. Offer flexible work schedules. A regular telecommuting schedule can reduce the total number of people in your open office at a time, reducing the noise and distractions as well. Companies can also provide ad hoc flexibility, allowing an employee to work from home or a nearby coffee shop or café when they need to concentrate on a task or deliverable. Not only will flexible work arrangements improve productivity, they’ll make your employees happier, too—51 percent of employees want their company to offer more flexible work options.

  2. Provide tools that mitigate distractions. Tearing down your office and starting over probably isn’t an option, but you can provide your employees with noise-cancelling headphones when they want to block out noise and distractions. Also, movable furniture allows teams to create slightly more private and cohesive spaces as needed.

  3. Create a hybrid floor plan. A hybrid floor plan also doesn’t require you to scrap your entire office space and start over, but it provides more permanent, designated space for private and uninterrupted work and collaboration. Huddle spaces and “phone booths” equipped with video conferencing and content sharing capabilities are a critical piece of hybrid office plans.

let an expert save your open office layout

An AV professional can help you implement technology solutions—like sound masking, displays, and video conferencing—as well as design meeting spaces—like huddle rooms and conference rooms—that provide the peace and quiet your employees crave while helping you preserve the relaxed culture and real estate savings of your open office concept. Read our blog to learn more about how huddle rooms can improve your open office layout.


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