How-To Fix the Open Space Syndrome

Let’s be honest.. the advent of Open Space Offices had more to do with economics than productivity. That said, other than death & taxes, every challenge has a (or various) solution(s).

The current work environment provided by most employers who support an Open Space layout is highly unproductive for getting work done at work. Interruptions & easy distractions are only a few inconvenient truths of why an open space working environment can become highly unproductive. That’s what I call “Open Space Syndrome”.

Open spaces are economical solutions for housing employees, and in the right configuration can still gain effective transversal (cross functional area) awareness without compromising the concentration required to deliver effective results.

Here are some solutions I’ve found to help open spaces become more productive.

Focus Time

If you have to do work that requires focus & concentration, find a quite & unused space in or around your office building. The secluded corner table of the coffee shop downstairs, the park bench across the street, the conference room that’s not in use, the library down the street or even the office cafeteria during off-peak hours. These are all spaces that you can move to in order to get important work done.

The pre-requisit is that your management team has realized the benefit of fitting out the office with laptop computers connected to docking stations or keyboard, mouse & screens. Given the increased computing power of portable computers and the flexibility of cloud computing based storage solutions, Desktop computers are dinosaurs / anchors that just don’t cut it anymore.

Visual Hints

Have you ever seen an “on-air” sign in a radio or television station? Do you remember the last time you walked into a bank, took a number & headed to the information desk? Those are only a few practical reminders of things you can do in your open space office environment in order to get more work done. If you’re part of a work team, agree amongst yourselves a rotating “customer service” schedule to take questions and issues from other departments & functional areas. Make it visibly clear who’s “on-call” by placing a bright tennis ball on the screen of the person providing Customer Service.. or get even more creative and make-up a sign to hang somewhere visible.

Another effective tip is to put headphones on, even if you don’t want to listen to music, so that people will assume that you’re taking an online course, speaking on Skype or indeed focused on a task whilst listening to music.

Semi-Open Spaces

Glass partitioning works best to provide an open-plan feel and still be conducive to “noise” cancelation. Glass partitioning also provides the added benefit have creating more “white-board” space to draw up brilliant half-baked ideas & capture spur of the moment brainstorms.

In an earlier article this year, I highlighted how the MCI Group has developed a really inspiring open-plan workspace in their Zurich offices.

The above are only a few effective solutions & I’d like to hear yours. If you’re working in an open space & have found handy tricks to maximize your productive moments in-spite of the challenges, I’d love to hear / read your experiences.

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