Where Have All The Walls Gone?

By Andy Will

For many years now, open plan offices have become part and parcel of the way many people work. Their popularity with organisations has increased massively over the last 30 years to the point where the vast majority of workers will spend some of their working life in the maze of workstations and partitions which generally make up an open plan office. Studies show that an estimated 70% of organisations now have at least some of their workforce working from areas with no or low partitions between workers. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of benefits offered by an open plan office design including:

  • Ease of communication between staff

  • Its ability to foster a collaborative culture

  • It is much more cost effective to set up initially than partitioning for many small offices.

However, to offset these potential benefits there are some other factors which may not be so positive and should be taken into consideration when determining the best office layout for your team.

Can anyone concentrate?

One of the most obvious drawbacks to an open plan office is the fact that many people find it difficult to concentrate on their work when operating amongst many other people in an open plan office. The effect of this on productivity can differ greatly depending on the type of work people are doing, but issues can arise where quiet is required in order to get a successful outcome. Issues such as employees sitting on the corner of your desk for a chat, the constant coming and going of people to the coffee machine and the incessant hum of the copy machine in the background can all make concentration near on impossible. This assault on the senses can really affect peoples’ concentration and their ability to be productive. A Cornell University study found that even the low-level noise which is common in most open plan offices can increase stress and decrease motivation which is not a great combination when trying to maximise productivity.

Pleasing everyone, helping no one.

Trying to find a balance that works for all employees is also a major issue in open plan offices. Employees appreciate the ability to control the small aspects of their environment and tailor them to their specific desires. Having an office dedicated to you gives you the ability to adjust things like the level of lighting, potentially adjust the temperature in the room and manage the level of sound to your liking, ensuring the space is set up to allow you to be as productive as possible. According to the Harvard Business Review, the more control people have over their environment, from where they sit to how they arrange their seats the more productive they will be and the more satisfied they will feel at work. Obviously, in an open plan environment, this level of control is diminished greatly and in most instances, you need to bow to what works for the majority.

A sneeze can become an epidemic

A recent study of over 2000 workers found that the more people working from a single room, the more sick days these employees took. In this study, the occupants of an open plan office took 62% more sick days compared to those in smaller regular offices. When working from open plan offices it becomes significantly harder to avoid germs and regular illnesses such as cold and flu particularly when everyone is working from the same confined space. Obviously this increased level of sickness affects people on a personal level and they can become frustrated by constantly being sick, however, there is also a significant cost to an organisation when large numbers of the workforce are regularly out of the office sick. In 2013, $27.5bn was lost to the Australian economy due to sick leave costs and lost productivity. This equates to about $2,700 per employee per annum, a cost any business will be keen to minimise.

A place to call their own

Another element should be considered in workspace design is the fact that humans inherently like to have ownership over their environment and when it comes to a workspace people appreciate having your own personal space and space they can call their own. People want to have the ability to personalise and tailor their workspace to fit their needs, the ability to do this is significantly limited when working in an open plan space. In personalising their space, people may want to display family photos and personal belongings and they may not feel comfortable doing so in the public forum which is a cubicle. When people are able to personalise their space and have a place to call their own, they feel empowered and safe, which in turn will lead to greater productivity and improved quality of work.


The concept of open plan office design has become quite a hot topic as organisations consider the way they design their office space to best suit their organisation. There are both pros and cons to dedicating some of a business’ office space to open plan design and it is important that organisations consider both sides of the coin in determining the best use of space. Whatever office space design an organisation chooses, the most important aspect for the organisation to consider is what will work best for their team and the work they need to do.

Andy Will is a Director of Wilkin Group and works with organisations and individuals on a daily basis to develop workspace solutions which support the way they choose to work.

Don Will is the MD of Wilkin Group, which has a number of Business Centres which have offered Virtual Office Solutions for over a decade, and hence understands the changing nature of workspaces.

Wilkin Group can be contacted at info@wilkingroup.com.au or +618 7071 7071.

We Can Learn Plenty From Kids About Work

We all have our different ways of getting things done at work, but at the end of the day, most of us battle the common issues of feeling like there are not enough hours in the day, possibly not really enjoying what we are doing and feeling burnt out by the end of the week. However, there are plenty of 3-4 foot tall case studies running around which can teach us a lot if we simply take the time to look at how they engage with the environment and people that surround them. While (thankfully) kids don’t spend much time in an office environment, the principles that make them so effective at play can certainly translate into our work styles and provide some guidance in terms of how we can improve the way we work.

They Make Do With What They Have

At heart, kids are really resourceful. While they will often pester their parents for the newest this or a bigger that, when they are left to their own devices they will always make do with what they have. If you sit back and watch kids play in the backyard for long enough, you’ll be amazed by how they use their imagination to turn even the most mundane household item into the perfect prop for their play. All too often at work, we are focused on whether we have the all of the resources and information to complete a given task rather than thinking a little outside the square and utilising what we have to get the job done. Granted this may take a little more creative thinking than just going back to your manager for more resources, but you’d be amazed by what can be achieved with what you already have at your disposal.

They Love To Push Boundaries

As anyone who has kids knows, they are always looking to push the boundaries. If you tell your child that they can watch five more minutes of Peppa Pig, they’ll push for ten. If you ask them to only climb up to the second branch of the tree, you can rest assured they will manage to scale at least a few more limbs. While this pushing of boundaries can be frustrating for parents (who are generally trying to establish the boundaries), it speaks to the inquisitive nature of most kids and the fact they are always asking ‘why’. Too many people at work just blindly follow the procedure which has been laid out before them, never questioning whether it is actually the best method. Only through pushing the boundaries of how things have always been done, can things actually improve. As the old saying goes – “if nothing changes, nothing changes”, and a lack of change is not good for a business or its employees.

Everything They Do Has An Element Of Fun To It

Give them half a chance and kids will turn anything into a game or at the very least they will respond much better to a request when it has an element of fun to it. Anyone who has ever tried to get a five-year-old to eat their peas or asked them to get in the bath knows the job gets much easier if you make it fun.  At the end of the day, kids just want to have fun and there is nothing wrong with that. Adults aren’t that far removed from kids in this way, however, we seem to forget this when we get into a work environment. There is a significant amount of research which shows that adding a little fun to the workplace can dramatically increase the levels of engagement, collaboration and productivity of employees. You don’t need to completely gamify your workplace and turn it into a circus, however in most instances there is a very little downside to adding an element of fun into workplace interactions and the upside can be significant. Beyond the obvious benefits for the business outlined above, adding some fun to the workplace will also often have a positive impact on the mental health of employees.

Everyday Is A Fresh Start

Remember how when you were a kid, the time between each Christmas felt like an eternity? This was in part because kids see each day as being so full of possibilities – opportunities to make friends, explore new adventures, learn new things – each day was such a big deal. But it was also due to the fact that as a kid you don’t carry baggage from one day to the next – which tends to link days together for us as adults.  They start each day afresh, in some cases almost as if the previous one never happened. Imagine if you were able to do the same with your workdays. How would leaving the stress of that unfinished report at the office or not worrying about the big presentation you have coming up in a few days time affect your mindset and the way you look at each day? The mentality which we take to work at the start of the day has a massive impact on the way we feel about our work and in turn our productivity and performance. Compartmentalising each day and treating them as individual parcels of time can be a great strategy for improving your mental health and avoiding burnout.

Nothing that kids do as they go about their days’ is rocket science (it would be a bit of a worry if it was) in fact it is quite the opposite – it’s really simple. The issue is that as adults (particularly at work) we forget these basic elements of what makes us tick and just fit in with the crowd. Rather than trying to get kids to act more like us, it may be worth acting a little more like kids from time to time – maybe you could even try for an afternoon nap.

What else do you think we can learn from kids to improve the way we work?

 

Don Will is the MD of Wilkin Group, which has a number of Business Centres which have offered Virtual Office Solutions for over a decade, and hence understands the changing nature of workspaces.

Wilkin Group can be contacted at info@wilkingroup.com.au or +618 7071 7071.

When An Office Just Makes Sense

Most small/micro businesses will start from a home office or temporary office space due to the risks associated with getting a new business idea off the ground. This approach makes sense to manage the downside risk in case the business doesn’t take shape as expected. However, as I have outlined in a previous post there are certainly some limitations to working out of a workspace which is somewhat cobbled together. At some point, the benefits of having a workspace which frees you (and your team) up mentally to be as productive as possible far outweigh any risks involved. However, the $64,000 question is when should you make the jump to a dedicated office space for your business?

When The Team Grows

Managing a growing team from your home office can be a real challenge. Unless you live in a kid-free house with multiple spare bedrooms, it is unlikely that your home office will support any more than a single employee on a flexible basis. In this scenario, you also need to consider how comfortable you are having employees coming into your home and how comfortable an employee will be with this arrangement. The other option for a growing team is to have employees work from their own houses, but then you open up a range of issues involved with managing remote teams. A growing team needs cohesion in a central location which supports the way it works and can scale with its growth.

When The Distractions Become Too Much

Even if your business is still a ‘one man band’ the distractions associated with working from home can become overwhelming. In the home office distractions are everywhere – that load of washing that needs to be hung out, the midday news on TV, checking the mail as soon as the postman has been – they’re all things which somehow become urgent when working from home. One of the underrated roles of an effective workspace is to put you in an environment which is conducive to actually getting things done – distraction free.

How Do People See Your Business?

One of the most common catalysts for seeking a dedicated workspace presence is when a business needs to start portraying a more professional image to it’s clients. Whether it is the need to have a CBD address rather than using your PO Box as a business address or having access to meeting rooms for client meetings, there are a number of facets of a business’ operations can drive the need for an office space. How people perceive a business is critically important to its success and that alone can justify the move to a dedicated office space.

The Dollars Start Rolling In

The most common reason for starting or running a business from a home office is to manage the financial risk of things not going to plan and having obligations associated with a dedicated office space. Once the business reaches a point where it is financially stable, the benefits of having a dedicated office space for your business well and truly outweigh the cost of operating the space. However even as the business reaches this tipping point, there are options such as Virtual Office or Flexible WorkSpaces which can provide many of the benefits of a dedicated office space, without the cost. Selecting the right location will also enable you to grow without changing your address.

So as your firm grows it is more a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ an office space will be of benefit to the operations. Like so many things in life, it can seem like there is no ‘right time’ to make the jump into a dedicated office space, however if the move is managed correctly the benefits can be substantial, and almost instantaneous.

What were some of the things which you thought about when considering the move into an office space for your business?

When you are ready to have a chat regarding an office in the Adelaide CBD, give us a call on (08) 7071 7071.

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