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How to Improve Collaboration in an Open Office Environment

Posted on Apr 25, 2016, by Michael Eckert

There are countless studies detailing how working in an open office affects your employees’ productivity, thanks to elevated noise levels and the constant stream of interruptions. In a bid to improve productivity and focus, more and more office workers put their headphones on and shut out the noise – and their colleagues – hindering the collaborative environment the open office was designed to foster.

So today I’m looking at three things you can do to improve collaboration in your open office, without impacting productivity.

1) Sort out the Acoustics

In an open office environment, noise is the biggest problem that your employees will have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. With no walls to absorb or block sound, making a couple of changes to the design of your office can dramatically improve the noise levels:

  • Invest in soft furnishings – such as sofas in your breakout area, or upholstered desk chairs. These all absorb sound better than hard surfaces like wooden desks or benches, and have the added benefit of creating a more comfortable working environment.
  • Reconsider your flooring – carpet tiles with open cell cushion backing absorb 50% more noise than hard-backed products, which in turn absorbs three times more noise than hard flooring. So your choice of flooring can have a surprising impact on your office noise levels.

With less background noise you’ll make it easier for employees to unplug their headphones and start working together again.

2) Create Dedicated Breakout Spaces

Having a breakout space in your office will help to foster collaboration and encourage group working.

However, a breakout space can be another unwanted source of noise, so you may want to consider separating it from your main open office space with partitions, to help create a more harmonious, less distracting working environment.

Your office breakout space needs to look and feel different from your employees’ regular workspaces, to help foster creativity and collaboration. Providing a variety of seating options and arrangements will encourage people to step away from their desks and work on collaborative projects in a more comfortable environment that is specifically designed for group use.

3) Encourage Cross-Team Working

Natural collaboration is one of the perceived benefits of open office working: you get everyone together in the same place and they will work together more easily and efficiently.

But if your marketing team all sit together at one end of the office, and your sales team all sit together at the other end, is collaboration between the two teams any better than if they were two separate closed offices? Simply changing the layout of your office won’t change the way two teams work together – it takes effort and encouragement for them to do so.

You should encourage your employees to work together across teams, perhaps by organizing regular cross-team meetings or activities, and by providing large tables in your breakout areas and meeting rooms to accommodate groups of staff, rather than desks that only accommodate one person.

One practice that is becoming increasingly common is changing up the seating arrangements every few months, so that rather than sitting each team together, mixing it up. The CEO could sit next to a developer one quarter, and a sales rep the next. This helps employees get to know more of their colleagues, and prevents the development of organizational silos.

4) Offer Closed Meeting Rooms

An open office space is perfect for fostering new working relationships and encouraging collaboration, but it’s vital to compliment your open office space by providing closed working spaces too.

Having a mixture of open and closed spaces maximizes the opportunities for collaboration without causing additional disruption. A cluster of private meeting rooms gives employees a space for meetings that may involve a large number of people – which would otherwise distract the other workers in your open office.

The A-Z of Health & Wellness in Interior Design

Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert