The Office has changed beyond all recognition. Or has it? At one time, the typing pool was the sign of a busy office. Hundreds of people – usually women – sat in row upon row, the clatter of typewriter keys almost deafening. Today, the keyboard is attached to the computer and by modern standards, printers are now the quietest they have ever been. But offices are still busy places. Full of people and equipment, organising your space is important. You want maximum efficiency in the movement of staff, but you also wish to maximise productivity. For many companies, the open plan office holds the key.
The stress of the office
Aside from office politics, the open plan office in particular can be unhealthy, stress-inducing, hostile to both creativity and productivity. According to some experts, are the epitome of communication a low social status through lack of privacy.
This tirade may have left you aghast that the open plan office can be such a disagreeable place but, there are things you can do to save it. Cast aside the notion that the open plan space is for you to monitor who is working, and who isn’t, who is chatty and who has got their head down and you are half way there.
Add in a water cooler and kitchen area, and you have the ingredients for a vibrant workspace where much more will get done.
Creating the right attitude
And this says a lot about the how and why some companies used or opt to use open plan offices.
There is a degree if being on the show; there is a level of performance; there is a degree of monitoring and being monitored. These have all created an unfortunate reputation of the open plan office.
With no place to hide, some employees felt so watched by colleague – “where is she going again? That’s the third time she’s left this morning” – that their job quickly escalated to being so stressful that they left.
That said, having the right attitude comes from how and why you have an open plan working space. Modern open plan spaces, for example, are not seen as dens of iniquity but rather places of creativity and self-regulation.
Yes, you read that right – self-regulation. No longer do employees need a bell to ring to tell them when they can have a break, a toilet break, their lunch or when it is time to start and finish work.
Self-regulation means what it says on the tin. Companies may provide employees with core hours, for example, they must be onsite and at their desk from 9 till 11.30am for example, but the remaining 4 hours of their work day can be done at their discretion.
The kitchen or water cooler is not a place where only the brave dare to tread. In fact, the water cooler is a positive emblem of the office now.
Take a moment to browse online at the lifestyle type websites that include frank and open discussion on a range of topics from feminism in the workplace to the latest in technological innovation. You will find short, sharp articles on various subjects – under the heading ‘water cooler discussions’.
In other words, the office, whether a mix of private cubicles, shut office doors or an open plan space has undergone a revolution of openness and discussion. And the humble water cooler is at the heart of this revolution.
Not ugly, bland or boringly functional either
The open plan space can be a thing of beauty. Decorated and accessorised, the open plan office does not have to be row upon row of desks and computer screens.
How about a seating area with sofas and the day’s papers? What about an area where staff could stand at a desk and make their phone calls or write their reports? There is a lot to be said for creating and slowing different postures within space.
The not-so-humble, revolution causing water cooler has also undergone a makeover, just like the office. No longer does it have to be white and plastic; how about a futuristic, slightly-space-age looking water cooler? Neat and natty, it will fit in any open plan office, from the traditional looking one to the modern, minimalist open position that so many companies are creating in this modern age.
We don’t want a revolution…
That’s OK, because not every water cooler causes one but, it does create something else. It creates a space where people meet and talk – not always a bad thing – and it means that staff are also better hydrated.