Embrace the Open Office…It’s Here to Stay

Diane Stegmeier | September 29, 2015

No workplace term provokes more debate than ‘open office’. Yet, today many open, collaborative plans being developed employ activity-based design principles. The result is a variety of workspace settings from which employees may select the most appropriate type of space for the tasks to be conducted.

Despite the compelling financial benefits of shared workspace environments and flexible work initiatives, some organizations still hesitate to explore changing to an activity-based office design. Why? I have observed that, more often than not, the fear of workforce resistance and a lack of understanding of how to manage the change are the primary reasons for organizations to ignore the opportunity for potential financial gain.

One thing is certain — resistance to change. I guarantee that any organization would face resistance from at least some members of their workforce population, regardless of how minor the workplace change being considered is. Employees’ typical perceptions of how an open work environment will look, feel, and sound are often exaggerated. Their biggest concerns about working in an open office (which is definitely not a minor change) are distraction and a lack of privacy, yet they frequently fail to accept ownership of seeking out a suitable space for focus work. We’re used to calling one single space our own, and our expectation is that the one work-setting can accommodate us to perform every imaginable work-task that surfaces throughout the day.

We’re used to calling one single space our own, and our expectation is that the one work-setting can accommodate us to perform every imaginable work-task that surfaces throughout the day.

Planning an effective open office environment must not end with deciding upon the appropriate acoustical solution, addressing specific lighting requirements, selecting easy-to-configure furniture, and a system for reserving space. Certainly, training employees how to reserve various work-settings is necessary to ensure a maximum return on investment in the technology. Don’t ignore the opportunity to educate them on operating in an activity-based workplace environment and articulate that the organization is encouraging them to move around the space throughout the typical workday to seek the setting most appropriate for the task at hand.

Cultural change can be difficult for all levels of your workforce and especially challenging for managers. Remember that all eyes are on leadership during workplace change. Managers need to be reminded that they are not exempt from the behavioral changes expected of the broader workforce. Workplace change can actually create the perfect timing for your company to identify areas for cultural improvement, and new work styles can accelerate cultural shifts.  

"Cultural change can be difficult for all levels of your workforce and especially challenging for managers." Tweet

I’m looking forward to speaking at the upcoming EMS Live! 2015 event in Orlando, Oct. 26-28 to share findings from more than 19 years of research on resistance to workplace change. I plan on sharing lessons learned — revealed in diverse client engagements, and hope to hear what your biggest challenges are.

Follow Diane on Twitter @dianestegmeier.

Diane Stegmeier
written by Diane Stegmeier, Founder & CEO, Stegmeier Consulting Group

Diane Stegmeier is founder and CEO of Stegmeier Consulting Group, a globally-recognized leader in workplace change management. She is author of the book, Innovations in Office Design: The Critical Influence Approach to Effective Work Environments, which has been ranked the #1 Workplace Strategy Book by Amazon readers, and has been adopted by major universities on six continents, ranging from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design to the University of Tasmania, in Australia.

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