We are all familiar with these workspaces today. They are great at encouraging innovation, attracting talent and are just fun places to work. They create a buzz, empower employees and there are many anecdotes and surveys that confirm the attraction and benefits of a great workspace over a “dull” more traditional one. The talent always heads to the cool, agile and collaborative workspace.
The core of a collaborative open-plan workspace is the ability for the employee to work where they like and with different zones for focus work, confidential work, socialising, brainstorming and informal work. The concept is great, however far too often we see problems arising which can quickly lead to frustration and disappointment.
How can this be?
The collaborative open-plan workspace is by nature a clean and open space that must be shared by many people. Invariably there is a clear desk policy which can feel impersonal to employees and requires them to pack up their things and take them with them whenever they move to another work zone, workspace or at the end of the day to return their things to their personal locker. Nobody wants to be making 3 or 4 trips back and forth to their locker each time they set up their workspace.
Free movement is, therefore, the key to the success of a collaborative open plan workspace. It’s the heartbeat or flow that drives collaboration and in practical terms means that a suitable workspace is available to any employee that requires it. If it becomes too time-consuming, difficult or stressful to move work zone then employees just stay put – they “beach towel” the workspace they have, and the flow stops. This can result in work zones not being used and employees surreptitiously returning to the same workspace each day and claiming it as there’s. This is not good for the organisation or the employee.
For a healthy and successful collaborative open-plan workspace to work, you need to make sure employees can move quickly and easily around it, so space is used efficiently and is always available.
Individuality and individual space are very important too. We all like to think of ourselves as individuals and it’s important that we can express our individuality through our environment. BC (Before Collaborative) working when we all had dedicated workspaces this was easy.
We had a defined space and we could personalise and organise this space. We had personal storage to hand, and we’d have pots for our pens, notes pinned up, that little cactus plant and pictures of our pets or family close by. And what about stationery? We all love a bit of stationery, that quirky pen or notebook. We hate it when we can’t find what we need, it’s distracting and disruptive and it’s no different in a collaborative open plan workspace. In fact, it’s probably more pronounced in the seemingly sterile collaborative open-plan workspace that doesn’t appear to allow personal individuality.
We long to make a space our own, we don’t want our neighbours encroaching on our space and we just want to be able to get on with our work as efficiently as possible without unnecessary distraction.
This defines us as individuals and is important for us to feel comfortable, offer a sense of belonging and to feel more secure.
The challenge, therefore, is maintaining individuality while at the same time maximising flexibility and freedom of movement.