3 Alternatives to the 'Open Office' Layout

3 min read
August 29, 2018

I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now - the open office has been deemed all but dead.

Table of Contents 

  1. Activity-based working (ABW)
  2. Video conferencing
  3. A hybrid approach

Since its mass adoption in the 1990s, around 80% of businesses today have an open office layout. And coming off decades of cubicles or worse - cube farms, open offices had given employers hope of increased transparency, lower operating costs, and an overall boost to the bottom line. However, a recent study has shown otherwise – and in fact, tells us that quite the opposite is happening.

The “no walls” environment of open offices has left employees feeling exposed and like all eyes are on them at all times, the noise from their coworkers means increased use of headphones – cutting off collaboration, and sitting right next to the company CEO makes workers feel under constant pressure and forced to further sacrifice work-life balance in order to be a team player.

So what is the modern office to do? The rise of technology-driven workplaces, combined with a workforce that demands both non-stifling offices and privacy together, means that employers are faced with trying to figure out what will let them get the best out of their employees without sacrificing their comfort.

1. Activity Based Working (ABW)

Also known as “agile” or “flexible” working - in this model workers aren’t tied to individual desks or offices, but instead let their task at hand dictate where they work.

For example, someone who needed to make phone calls would go to a private booth set up for this type of work; a group working on a project together would go to a conference room set up to maximize their collaboration, and someone working through a focus intensive task can head to a quiet cluster of desks where they can work without disruptions.

In an ABW model workers can focus when they need to and have access to collaboration (and the tools for it) when that need arises. One drawback is that the cost savings to the employer are lost when having to create an eco-system of spaces for their employees, and since people are territorial and tend to enjoy having their own space - they might not be interested in switching locations even if it’s called for.

2. Video conferencing

Through online meeting environments, workers can retain the comfort of having their own workspace without sacrificing their access to collaboration. Tools like whiteboards, screen sharing, HD video and audio, as well as the ability to work 1-on-1 or in massive groups make video conferencing an ideal alternative to open offices.

Solutions like Samba Live further extend the utility of the format by allowing evergreen content through pre-recorded webinars – so no one ever misses a meeting or a virtual classroom for professional development and onboarding.  A worker can basically stay at their own desk, put on a headset, and be fully connected while being in their own comfortable space.

3. A hybrid approach

Combining the best of video conferencing and activity-based working might be the solution that wins out in the end. A flexible workspace with private and public spaces optimized for those who need to collaborate and those who need to work alone can make great use of available space by giving workers the option to work in whatever way suits their productivity.

Plus, employers can offer more work-at-home days, further increasing worker satisfaction and freedom without a loss in productivity or access. Adding in other communication tools like Slack and Google Drive, people can work in entirely different countries without feeling any less connected.

With more companies growing tired of the open office format, and with some big companies going as far as ditching offices completely it’s hard to say what will come out ahead in the effort of maximizing worker productivity while minimizing operational costs. Additionally, as work dynamics continue to evolve, new tools like a time clock app with GPS can also be integrated into the modern office setup. This allows employers to track attendance and productivity even when employees are working remotely, thus further enriching the technological ecosystem that supports a productive work environment. Regardless, a commitment to effective communication technologies will be the key to making everything work together.

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