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By applicomhq
Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 11:16
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The complete guide about a more productive work space (and team)

You are not a respectable start up if you don't have a cool, hipster friendly, big windows office. Yes, you also need a built-in slide to get down from the upper level!

Selgas Cano office in Madrid
Selgas Cano office in Madrid (Credit: Iwan Baan)

However the daily reality for most of us is much different: there are priorities, rent to pay and no interior designer at your service. So what are the actionable and practical tips for you to create a better workspace?

The sound of silence

Researchers use to say what we already know, the difference is they prove it by numbers. A study by the University of Sydney found out that most people are generally dissatisfied with having to work in an open plan office Workers sitting in cubicles and roughly half of those who sit in open-plan offices with no partitions, say they find a “lack of sound privacy”. So your first focus should be about finding ways to reduce the excess of environmental noise.

Why did companies start to create open spaces for the employees on a first place?

The Scientific American explained how everything started when modernist architects Frank Lloyd Wright suggested to renew the concept of the office environment getting rid of division walls. The Open Space philosophy ought to have been the new way to foster collaboration. But when architects said “open space” companies understood “a new way to save money on square meters”. In the first half of the 20th century a modern companies used to have rows of desks on an assembly line style.

Then cubicles came in the 60th as an alternative to put some humanity and a touch of privacy at individual desk. Again, it mostly ended up in a worse outcome. You know exactly what I mean.

It clearly indicates the disadvantages of open plan offices clearly outweigh the benefits.

– PhD candidate Jungsoo Kim, from the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning

Nowadays there are companies using low-wall cubicles, high-wall cubicles and offices to define status and pecking order.

Cubicle, open-plan office or room?

Even if an open environment is commonly assumed to facilitate communication and interaction between co-workers, the reality shows that uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy bring much more inconveniences than benefits:

Too much noise: phone and people chatting are a common reason of complain. However many people find a solution listening to their best background music. The problem is not the presence of noise, but the high level of volume, as a matter of fact a background music or noise can help you to focus better.

Visual distractions: this is kind of peculiar. Open space means visual distraction caused by our colleagues moving around, doing things, showing stuff. We are distracted by others monitors. In a research by PhD candidate Jungsoo Kim and Professor Richard de Dear from the university's faculty of Architecture in Sydney, they find out that the cubicles workers show the highest rate of dissatisfaction. Guessing the reason?

Why are cubicle workers more frustrated about sound privacy than those who have no partitions? De Dear and Kim speculate that those who have no partitions are reassured by the fact that they can see where noise is coming from. It gives them a sense of control, even though they have none.

– via Forbes

Lack of privacy: in 1987 Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) reshaped and innovated its work environment with the goal to facilitate and promote employees interactions. They added many multifunctional and recreational rooms for coffee, photocopy, shopping, medical, sports. And they made it clear that the company promote the usage of those common spaces. But the reaction wasn't the one expected: only 9% of the workers took advantage of the “street” and the café area while just 27% used the other public spaces combines. But workers still used the private rooms for meeting. I personally find not surprising this result and even arrogant from the management perspective thinking about their own workers this way. The thing is that we go to our offices in order to work. Time by time we may need private rooms for meeting up with specific colleagues, but we are not there to spend our spare time.

Do it yourself: other times we simply don't need to collaborate. Even if the new commandment is “togetherness” that doesn't apply to every person or situation. For example, a group of German and Swiss researchers found out that, when in an open-space environment, colleagues requesting assistance performed better, while the helper's performance failed to be higher since interrupted at any time. So next time your laptop freezes try to fix the issue by yourself, then try again and again before bothering the tech guy.

Takeaways: leave my leisure time out of your office

The office is a place for working. Based on the type of work and company and the resources limits, managers should find the right balance between: comfort, privacy, collaboration and humanity. Here are the top tips, at-a-glance to improve your team productivity:

  • Give each team member an adequate desk: the desk, the chair and the facilities have to be new and with a great level of usability. I still remember when I had to fight with my boss because I was working on a 7 years old desktop computer. I got a new one and my productivity increased instantly.
  • Provide one or more room for random meetings: everyone should be allowed to use them without asking for permission.
  • Provide one or more recreational room: free coffee and ping-pong are good.
  • People should be pushed to be part of the process: ask them for feedbacks and make some changes once in a while.
  • Use colors: if you think this is a trite suggestion or it applies to girls only, see what this newyorker company does: Poppin.
  • Tight collaboration matters in your business? Go for old style round-shaped tables.

What has been your experience so far in your work environments? What the best/worst workplace you have been involved? What's your #1 tip?

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