Designing the physical workspace may be easy to overlook as a means of improving company culture, but it is in some ways the most fundamental of choices. I’ve been reading a lot about the negative effects of an open office recently (see here for an example) that it can cause distraction and therefore a lack of concentration - yet in my experience, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
At Leighton, we have worked in an open office environment for as long as we have been in business - that’s almost 20 years. We have no physical walls between teams and continually encourage collaboration and communication. We have ‘breakout’ areas and more private spaces within the office, and we still have meeting rooms for privacy when needed.
What’s more, we have recently moved in to a new office space; one that’s much larger than our previous office and spanning across an entire floor.
Having already seen the benefits of open plan working, this larger space - which is more open and collaborative still - has showcased these benefits even further, with the following five the most notable:
1. Increased employee engagement
When you have an office that’s not restricted by physical walls or barriers, employees get a sense of what’s going on in every part of the company, almost through osmosis.
As Michael Bloomberg puts it in his book, workers “absorb information peripherally while focusing elsewhere.” It’s a great phrase and one that, whether you’re an advocate of the open office environment or not, is clearly true. If you’re sat in a cubicle, you don’t get to hear what’s going on around you. When we can openly see and hear what your colleagues are saying, however, we naturally absorb the information (even if that’s just subconsciously).
2. Better knowledge-sharing, ideas and innovation
As a digital business, we work in an industry that is constantly changing and evolving. It’s therefore important to discuss ways in which we can harness the power of digital and technology to aid businesses and their evolution.
Through the open, collaborative areas we have, we’re finding this to be the case more than ever. It naturally happens when we’re at our desks, as we bounce ideas around throughout the day, but it happens even more so when we’re in one of the breakout areas that seem to exude creativity.
3. Easier problem solving
A problem shared is a problem halved and in our case it can be divided by far more. When you have open working environments, you have open channels of communication as and when you need them, resulting in communication aids for solving complicated problems.
4. Improved collaboration and communication
As any successful business professional will attest, communication is vital to the effective and efficient operation of any business. At Leighton we aim to be transparent across the company, both for our staff and our clients for this very reason.
A collaborative approach means everyone has involvement with what’s going on in the business and can easily contribute - something that’s showcased in our agile approach to projects.
For example, by not working to traditional methods - whereby months can often pass between interactions with a client - we continually have touch points (every two weeks, in fact) with our clients and are completely open to on-going amendments, whether that’s as a result of a change in design requirements for example or a complete business refocus.
5. Better workflow
As mentioned, we work to an agile methodology and have done for some time now. Whilst the approach can be entertained in your traditional office setting, it works so much more effectively in open environment.
Running projects in a way that means we work closely together in delivery teams, each team is responsible for a package of work and over time they gel, something that is naturally enhanced through the improved working flow open offices provide.
Hopefully it’s clear to see I’m a huge fan of the open workspace. The ease of meetings, collaboration and the frequency of serendipitous colleague interactions can all be deeply affected by the landscape of an office. Having worked in such an environment for close to 15 years now, there’s little doubt to me that open offices are not simply the future, but the present.