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For Successful Open Office Design, Form Follows Function

For Successful Open Office Design, Form Follows Function

The utopian image of productive, social employees that open office once conjured has not met expectations.

While the elimination of private offices in favor of communal workstations has cut costs, in some offices, the shift has had a negative impact on productivity. Office workers have pushed back against the lack of privacy and the increase in noise and distractions.

Unispace explored the challenges of open office in its white paper, “Form following function,” which surveyed more than 130 companies and 11,000 workers. Among those surveyed, one trend was consistent: Many spend the majority of the working day, 60%, on tasks requiring focus.

Open office is now the dominant design model. Of those surveyed, 30.9% work in an open plan. Cubicle-style environments and private offices came in behind, at 17.9% and 12.9%, respectively.

Office tasks have not adapted to a design standard favoring social activity. Survey participants revealed that routine responsibilities that require concentration, such as creative work, training and learning take up more time than tasks requiring collaboration.

By comparison, the need to work collaboratively took up 24.8% of the day. 

The physical impact of open plans also became a factor in employee productivity. Noise issues have worsened over the last 12 months, with more workers complaining than the previous time last year. Survey respondents also cited inefficiencies in quiet areas (13% of respondents), privacy (8.9%) and temperature and air quality (7.1%) as contributing factors to workplace unhappiness. 

Small inconveniences compound over time. According to research from Queensland University, 90% of studies about working in open plan offices had findings indicating elevated levels of stress, increased conflict and low job satisfaction. 

For Successful Open Office Design, Form Follows Function

Businesses are caught in a catch-22. Space is at a premium in big cities, as office rents continue to climb higher. Open offices allow companies to rent in prime areas, which attracts top talent. But the lack of privacy and quiet space causes top talent to leave.

The solution is not to abandon open office. Unispace has looked instead to create spaces within open plans that cater to different work personas.

People work in different ways based on their roles. Some workers need to be mobile while others prefer assigned desks. Unispace developed persona profiles to map the spectrum of these work habits. These personas helped the company understand space requirements for focus, collaboration or formal and informal drop-in areas. 

An "Anchor" persona, for example, might be an analyst or administrator who requires focus and formality. A consistent desk combined with the occasional conference room to connect with colleagues would be the best environment. On the other end of the spectrum, the "Butterfly" is highly mobile and likes to collaborate with others in informal spaces and lounge areas. Marketing and human resources team members often fall into this category. 

Using personas to understand how employees use their workplace creates a more balanced approach to designing space.

Design has overprioritized collaboration at the cost of concentration, but Unispace has developed a solution. Instead of looking at office design from a one-size-fits-all perspective, successful companies have focused on their most crucial assets: their individual people. 

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