Open office plans are viewed as the solution to every company's communication and collaboration challenges. With employees sharing one large workspace, it's touted as the perfect environment to cultivate creativity and encourage idea sharing and cross-team collaborative projects.
Unfortunately, the reality is often very different: with many employees sharing an open workspace, noise levels quickly escalate to the point where everyone finds it near-impossible to focus on their work. Productivity slumps, and employees are left frustrated by their working environment.
So how can you design an open office space to improve coworking and collaboration? We're sharing three ideas to address the challenges of designing a collaborative office environment.
What Makes a Harmonious Coworking Space?
There are several key factors that are essential to creating a coworking space that fosters collaboration and communication, rather than hinders it:
- Noise levels - high levels of ambient noise are one of the biggest causes of workplace complaints, with overheard conversations being one of the most common problems. In a coworking space the problems of high noise levels will be amplified, with more people sharing the same workspace. Therefore it's important to design your coworking space in a way that minimizes ambient noise levels.
- Variety of work spaces - a collaborating office space will be used by different numbers of people in a variety of ways: for heads-down working, small impromptu meetings, and bigger, all-hands meetings. Therefore it's essential to create a variety of working environments so that meetings and brainstorming sessions don't disrupt those employees trying to focus on their heads-down work.
- Infrastructure to meet flexible working requirements - modern working practices such as coworking, flexible working and the use of freelancers and contractors means that the number of people using your office space is likely to vary on any given day. It's essential that you've got the infrastructure to meet these changing requirements, such as additional desk spaces, WiFi access, and possibly even out-of-hours receptionist staff to provide support and building access to employees and other team members.
3 Design Ideas for a Collaborative Office Space
1) Office Zones
For a collaborative office space to be successful, it's essential to separate the main, heads-down work space from collaborative areas and breakout areas. This will help to keep the heads-down work spaces at lower noise levels, and help to improve concentration and employee productivity.
You can identify office zones in several ways: adding signage; using space dividers or screens; or more subtly through color and furnishings, such as using different types of seating in different zones, and different flooring patterns to mark out each zone.
2) Considerate Acoustic Design
For many designers, the acoustics of a space is given little consideration, especially in comparison with the aesthetics or lighting. However, managing indoor noise levels is essential for a collaborative work environment.
There are several design choices you can make, to lower the overall ambient noise levels inside a building. For example, choosing upholstered furniture instead of hard-surface benching reduces reverberation. Your choice of flooring can also have a big impact: carpet with cushion backing absorbs at least 3x more structure-borne sound than hard surface flooring, providing a noticeable reduction in noise from foot traffic or scraping chairs.
3) Flexible Furniture
The success of a collaborative work space depends on how well it creates an environment that fosters collaboration and communication. Your choice of furniture will play a critical role in creating a collaborative working environment. Modular furniture is a popular choice as it's easy to reconfigure to suit the needs of the employees using it.
As well as choosing furniture that's easy to move around, or for people to use in groups as well as individually, it's also important to design with technological flexibility in mind. There should be easy access to power sockets throughout the work space, as well as internet access.