In recent years, creative and extrovert people who get on well in open plan offices have had the chance to flourish. This has many positive effects, but, in our thought society, it is also important to meet the needs of the introverts. To create spaces where today’s multifaceted workforce can find a balance between interaction and concentration. This to achieve maximum productivity and creativity.
Pros and cons with open plans offices
Something was lost when office cubicles gave way to open-plan offices. Designing working environments where employees are not continually being interrupted is a major challenge for the future. From the outset it all seemed like an ingenious idea. Everyone would benefit from the open-plan office: creative employees who could freely exchange ideas and thoughts with each other, managers who could keep a close eye on staff and not least financial controllers, who could house more workers in the same space.
There was only one problem – or rather two:
Certain people find it hard to totally concentrate on their work assignments when they hear their colleagues in conversation.
Certain work assignments require total concentration.
In the new thought economy, knowledge is no longer the most important factor; rather it’s about understanding it and combining seemingly different ideas with new concepts and solutions which really make a difference. Dialogue, sharing experience and meetings will continue to play a significant part, but concentration and undisturbed working environments will become more important. It is becoming more and more difficult to find the time and space for this, with the coffee machine bubbling, the printer rattling, toilet doors banging shut, a mobile phone signal that rings too loud while someone is talking about the dinner party they had at the weekend.
People want to either concentrate on a task or meet others to communicate. Acoustics will remain an important issue in distinguishing these two ways of working. It is also important to create a ‘do not disturb’ culture so that everybody’s need for privacy and concentration can be better respected.
Reaching a state of flow
According to the Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, every employer should strive to help their employees reach a state of flow. This is when they become totally immersed in their activities and wholeheartedly devote themselves to them so that problems can be solved and innovative ideas created. But this requires for most people a certain amount of peace and quiet at work, a structure and clear objectives.
It's about creating a balance between concentration and creativity.
Productivity, motivation and the feeling of doing the job well drop if there are too many disturbances. Most people go to work in the morning with the intention of doing their best. Studies now show that a large part of our being happy comes from that feeling of having done a good job. A job that feels meaningful and where one can see that the effort made leads to a positive outcome. If the feeling at the end of the working day is increasingly one where we do not meet our own expectations and of those around us, there is a drop in wanting to work and in motivational levels.
It can be hard for an individual employee to have influence over the physical office environment. Some have attempted to create their own space by listening to music in headphones or just even by using ear protectors. This also indicates to those around them that they want to be left alone. But employers who don't want their staff to work solely outside of the office or that they should look around for other employment ought to have a think about how the offices of the future must be designed.
By this we see that offices promoting productivity and well-being must meet the needs of the many. It is crucial to create workspaces where employees can concentrate to achieve a sense of flow but also be a part of the creative community. One must see to the needs of both the introverts and extroverts. This is achieved by creating a variety of spaces that offers room for different types of focus and distraction.
A tailored solution
Henrik Axell, our Next Office concept manager from Sweden, says: "We often hear our customers say that because of their office design, they cannot be productive. Not uncommonly, this is due to there being a lack of quiet areas for focus work. When we design or refurbish offices, we see it is a main priority to ensure and protect such quiet spaces"
In our Kinnarps Next Office concept, we develop tailored, holistic solutions to assist our customers in their office design and refurbishing efforts. The customer and their operations are our starting point. We look at their current work methods and how they want their future to look. Then, the journey to creating a new, uniquely tailored office begins. We are involved throughout the process, from vision and inspiration to implementation and follow up.
It is important for us to practice what we preach, which is why we chose to implement our Next Office concept in the joint workplace and showroom space at our headquarters in Kinnarp. Henrik Axell played a big part of the creation of this activity-based office space. Management and employees were involved early in the process and their input and viewpoints were collected. "Unless management is on board, it is very difficult to roll out new thoughts and ideas in the organisation. And once you have management on board, you also have to get employees involved – all viewpoints are of value," says Mr Axell.
To best utilise the openness of the office while providing spaces for employees to do focus work, the office was divided into three focus zones: High Focus, Semi Focus and Low Focus.
High Focus spaces are for undisturbed focus work. This can entail large and small soundproof meeting rooms that ensure that conversations are not heard from outside. The library and individual high-focus workstations are important additions to the quiet meeting rooms. These areas are ideal for focus work such as reading and writing.
Semi focus areas are for those who would like to work somewhat focused, but not in a silent or isolated environment. For this level of focus, rooms within rooms are a good solution. You can easily design these using sound-absorbing or silencing screens. Semi focus work can ideally be done in collaborative or creative spaces. These are zones well suited to spontaneous meetings, briefings and workshops. It is important that the interior design encourages productivity and creativity.
There are also a number of spaces dedicated to low focus work. Examples of these are the lounge and the ‘landing space’ – two areas in which conversations and other sounds are to be expected. Here, you can go through your email or have spontaneous meetings with passing colleagues. In addition to these zones, there is an open space containing individual workstations. These stations are equipped with everything you need to work for an extended period of time. The office canteen can also be used for low focus work.
Zoning and rules
In order for the focus zones to truly work, it is important that they are screened off from each other so, for example, the noise from the lounge does not disturb those working in high focus areas. Sound-absorbing screens hung from the ceiling or standing on the floor separate zones from one another. Desktop screens can also be used to provide additional sound absorption in high focus areas.
However, sound absorption is only one aspect of the focus zones. It is also vital to set up rules regarding office noise. There needs to be a common view on what is permitted in each zone. The clearer the rules, the easier it is to create a highly productive, pleasant office.
"Rules are an important piece of the puzzle. They assist employees in knowing how to approach and act in the office and in creating new habits. An established set of rules contributes to a functioning office and satisfied employees," says Henrik Axell.