Engaging office design

bzi_foc_glb_ho_2215Posted by Don Miller on May 1, 2015.

With businesses around the world citing culture and engagement as one of their top challenges (see Culture and engagement: The naked organization), office design is being considered as a multifaceted organization design solution. Companies are looking to their workplace environment not only to entice and retain talent (particularly Millennial talent) and support their employment brand but also strengthen communication, collaboration, and employee satisfaction — which could ultimately lead to improved customer service and stronger business performance. “Open plan” office designs have been around for many years, but they are enjoying a new resurgence, perhaps because they are closely associated with tech- and innovation-driven companies of all sizes — from recognized global giants to high-potential startups. But is the trend right for your organization?

Open office design is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While design can enhance organizational efficiency and performance, it can equally impede these outcomes when floor plans do not align with a company’s culture and capabilities, or enhance employee productivity and morale.

Some potential problems in open offices:

  • Increased noise
  • Lack of privacy
  • Decreased employee wellness

These issues can lead to:

  • Lower employee satisfaction
  • Reduced productivity
  • Superficial communication
  • Increased absences

Designing an effective workplace should follow a needs-based, outcome-driven approach. Whether moving to an open floor plan or another model, carefully plan your change management approach for effective adoption. Workspaces should first and foremost fit the people who use them, supporting the work they do as individuals and the collective work of the organization. Once these essentials are met, they can also fulfill broader purposes, such as furthering the organization’s culture, employment brand, and talent goals.

When getting started, we suggest keeping these guiding principles in mind:

Seek out employee feedback – Employees’ work processes and interaction with coworkers are impacted by office layouts. Solicit employee perception of the redesign process. Once a decision has been made, employee ideas should be incorporated into the design.

Consider a combined approach – Leaders should avoid an all-or-nothing approach for open office design. Open floor plans can be mixed with private areas to provide flexibility and choice for employees in how they perform work tasks. This also allows for balance — driving efficiency and quality of work while considering employee needs.

Set norms – Implement rules and policies to govern workforce interaction. Examples include not interrupting someone using headphones, taking calls in private spaces, using computer communication, or scheduling meetings in standard offices for lengthy conversations. A public library is a good example of successfully establishing norms for open shared spaces.


Don Miller headshot Don Miller is a senior manager in the Organization Transformation & Talent Human Capital Practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he focuses on helping clients improve performance through building organization structures to execute new capabilities through their workforce.
Contributors: Jennifer Koger, Megan Carr, and Elizabeth Lascaze

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