the-top-3-open-office-mythsWhat’s the best way to promote teamwork and collaboration in the workplace? 

In recent years, the answer has been open-plan offices, in which employees work side-by-side with their colleagues in a configuration that not only encourages face-to-face interaction, but requires it. While these open spaces have their benefits, a new study from global office furniture company Steelcase Inc. suggests employers’ efforts to foster – and, in some cases, force – creativity can have the opposite effect, especially when those efforts come at the expense of employee privacy.

According to Steelcase’s Donna Flynn, “the need for privacy sometimes — at work as well as in public — is as basic to human nature as is the need to be with others. The harder people work collaboratively, the more important it is to also have time alone.”

Yet many employers have failed to achieve this balance, instead believing that the more open the floor plan, the more satisfied workers are with their office. In reality, just 11 percent of workers are “highly satisfied” with their work environment, according to a Steelcase survey of more than 10,500 workers who work in a variety of office types. Not surprisingly, those employees had more privacy and, as a result, were also the most engaged, with 98 percent saying they are able to concentrate easily in the office. Conversely, employees with less privacy were most dissatisfied with their work environment and also the least engaged, showing the toll a less-than-ideal floor plan can have on company morale.

The Steelcase report dispels other common myths relating to open-plan offices, including several Amata has heard through its own work in the shared office and brokerage sectors. These include:

As noted in our recent ”Conference Room Conflict” white paper, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to office design.  Instead, employers should offer a variety of spaces that can accommodate whatever task an employee is working on, either alone or with a group. “A key takeaway from our study is that the open plan isn’t to blame any more than reverting to all private offices can be a solution,” Flynn says.

Ultimately, office design is about achieving a balance between the two and finding solutions that work for different industries. The needs of a creative marketing agency or tech startup are very different from a law firm, so their respective work environments should be flexible enough to facilitate collaboration and open discussions without taking the concept too far.