There’s an enormous restlessness in today’s society, both at work and at home in how we relate to one another across the multitude of communications platforms, in offices and remote-working conditions. Attributable to many things, but centered around our adoption of technology, I often focus on the workplace and how technology can help us both collaborate and take time alone to be productive. Read on to see why both are important and four organizational strategies you can implement at your organization to make your office space work for your employees.
The future of the workplace
I recently saw IKEA’s research and innovation lab Space10 announce its trade in of the chaotic open-plan office design in Copenhagen for a more flexible workspace divided with mobile partitions, and it made me revisit the strategies that organizations can implement to offer employee privacy. It’s a topic that Jabra has focused on extensively, both in its Copenhagen office and all around the world. At Space10, co-founder Simon Caspersen said that their office “was stressful, you were interrupted a lot, and you didn’t feel like you had delivered the best quality of work,” which is something most can relate to, and Jabra research backs this. But while Caspersen sees the open-place office as distracting, he believes in its importance for maintaining a sense of collectivity and purpose.
Harvard research published last year by the Royal Society showed that open-plan offices actually result in less face-to-face communication, as people tend to use asynchronous communications like email. RescueTime also published data in its 2019 Work Life Balance Study corroborating this, showing that we check email and IM on average every six minutes, with over 40% of our days spent multitasking with communications tools.
They say this leaves us with only 72 minutes of focused time to be productive each day.
And according to Jabra’s 2018 and 2019 studies, though 60% of C-Suite executives think that office workers will have higher productivity working from the office, 45% of knowledge workers find that open-plan noise levels drive down their productivity, and 35% believe that colleague interruptions also contribute negatively to this. So then, how can we better strategize around creating privacy in the open-plan office, while still fostering team purpose and collaborative opportunities.
Create purposeful huddle rooms and strategic spaces
Each office takes a different approach here, to cater to the flexible workspace needs of employees engaging in deep work or collaborative tasks. Companies like Salesforce devote entire floors to airy lounges for employees, while Facebook have a massive rooftop garden. Whether you zone off entire areas like these, or distribute them across floors with little pockets for privacy and meeting rooms, offices are changing spatially. In a remote-work economy, their designs will become even more important.
Research predicts a 35% rise in huddle rooms per annum until 2023 for collaboration spaces, thanks in part to the rise of cloud video collaboration services like Zoom and BlueJeans. And Frost and Sullivan report that huddle room video is booming – with growth in the future driven by stronger adoption of video in multiple meeting environments, from conference rooms to huddle rooms, open spaces, desktops and mobile devices.
In turn, one of our biggest boosts in intelligent room layouts could come from AI, which Frost and Sullivan call a game changer for collaboration in the future. Video conferencing technology can offer in-room analytics for meeting diagnostics which is data we can use when designing rooms, looking at how they’re used. Activity-based working will be used to work out how spaces can be optimized, greatly assisted by these video data feeds.
Video conferencing technology can offer in-room analytics for meeting diagnostics, which is data we can use when designing rooms
Offer sensory privacy
Whether you choose protective barriers, frosted glass, indoors plants, noise-cancelling headsets, or noise-free spaces, be cognizant of your employees’ senses and where they might be easily distracted. Offer noise-cancelling headsets if people are taking a lot of calls in the office, build barriers where passages or water-cooler movement could be distracting. Given that our research shows noise and climate control as two of the biggest inhibiters in productivity, these areas warrant investment and attention.
Articulate office policies as more than etiquette
Most Friday’s people on my team decline meetings because they’re tackling meatier tasks that require all-day focus and working from home. In the office, everyone wears headphones, but they have red-glowing busy lights to indicate when we’re actually on calls or not to be disturbed. Most staff work flexible hours to manage and balance their personal schedules. Whatever fits your company and industry, make sure it is organizationally brought to life and demonstrated in the leadership behavior.
Make your visual and verbal cues clear
Jay Desai, founder and CEO of health technology startup PatientPing, penned a user guide that “deconstructed how he operated optimally, when he might malfunction, and how others could use him to their greatest success.” While policies relate more to companies, signaling your personal boundaries, whether you’re a leader or team member, empowers your team to know how best to collaborate with you and when you need space. This could be down to letting people know how often you check email, or that they are free to approach you even while you’re wearing headphones.
At Jabra, I’ve seen the benefits that technology can play in improving productivity, especially in open plan offices, but I also back the Harvard Business Review in realizing that while employees can use a host of devices to establish boundaries, they won’t work without a culture that respects the need for privacy.
History has shown that we move in pendulum-like motions and a natural rhythm in collaboration. Architecture and workplace design pays into the ways in which we collaborate and communicate at work, affecting our productivity throughout the day. Over 50% of people think brands have more power to fix society than government, and for that we need to innovate. Office spaces will be crucial to this future of collaboration and privacy, the right blend of which will lead to high performing organizations. And from what I can see, technology will be key to honing this agile design thinking methodology going forward.