3 ways to make your open office work

Around 70% of U.S. offices now use an open office floor plan, according to the Washington Post.

They're even growing more popular in higher ed as a way to improve space utilization, collaboration, and communication.

Gallup recently considered best practices for using open offices as part of its 2017 "State of the American Workplace" report. Gallup researchers based the report on data collected from more than 195,000 U.S. employees through the Gallup Panel and Gallup Daily tracking surveys, as well as another 31 million responses to a Gallup employee engagement survey.

Annamarie Mann, manager of Gallup's employee engagement and well-being practice, identified three key takeaways about open offices from the report in a recent blog post.

Takeaway 1: People need personal space

Boundaries are a big deal in an open office. "Employees who have a personal workspace are 1.4 times as likely to be engaged at work," Mann writes, citing Gallup's workplace report.

But each person's personal space doesn't need to be large. According to Mann, what's important is that each person has a place where they feel control and autonomy. It could be an office with a door, or it could be a desk, a chair, or a locker.

The three benefits for colleges that switch to an open floor plan

Takeaway 2: Create ways for employees to have privacy

Employees in traditional offices can close their doors when they don't want to be disturbed—but employees in open floor plans don't have that option. Therefore, it's important to establish cultural norms and spaces that allow employees to signal that they want some privacy.

Mann writes that the best open offices have a variety of zones to support different types of activities, such as large conference tables and small, soundproof rooms. She argues that they also establish nonverbal signals that an employee wants to be left alone to concentrate, such as putting on headphones.

Takeaway 3: Collaboration won't happen by magic

Many organizations switch to open offices to encourage more collaboration. But if you truly want to encourage a new way of working, you need to back up your office redesign with a cultural shift, Mann argues. For example, she recommends shifting your thinking to recognize that collaborative activities like brainstorming can be productive activities—then discuss these new expectations with your employees (Mann, Gallup, 6/22).

How one university made open offices work in higher ed

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