Plusses and pitfalls of open plan

Does ‘communication’ outweigh the aircon war, those really loud voices and the permanent lack of privacy?


Strange food smells, loud chewing and no-one ever really agreeing on the temperature of the air-conditioner are just some of the pitfalls of open-place offices.
A 2018 study by Harvard Business School found that open offices reduced face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increased e-mail and messaging by roughly 50%, bringing into question the idea that they promote co-operation.
But David Seinker, founder and CEO of popular co-working space The Business Exchange, says one of the highlights of co-working spaces is that there is an opportunity to mingle and make friends.
“But it’s important to keep in mind that almost everyone in that space is hustling and working hard to make a living and grow their business.
“Don’t join a space assuming that they are all there to shoot the breeze.”
Corporate communications manager for Isuzu, Gishma Johnson, says she believes an open-plan office creates an atmosphere of teamwork, collaboration and transparency.
“An open-plan office allows for the sharing of ideas.
“It is maybe not funny, but one hears everything – whose dog is at the vet, whose child is sick, where your next holiday destination is and some awkward conversations.”
Monique Mortlock, who works in an open-plan setting in Cape Town, said one of the positives was easily being able to bounce ideas off colleagues.
“The buzz in the office stimulates my own work process. I can't work in silence. But not being able to eat in peace, loud phone calls or [WhatsApp] voice notes that colleagues send or listen to can get annoying. There’s also the lack of privacy – everyone wants to know what you've received when a package comes.”
Kaylin Human, who hails from Port Elizabeth but is now also based in Cape Town, said: “I often find myself going to sit elsewhere to be able to focus on my work and not get distracted as everyone talks over each other and from one end of the room to the other.”
Here are some tips from Seinker, on what not to do in a shared space and a couple of things you should do:

Don’t be messy – It’s great to feel independent and as though you are working on your own, but you still have to be aware that you are sharing the space. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen and if you have lunch in the fridge, don’t leave it there for a month until it starts sprouting its own ecosystem;
Use your inside voice – People are trying to get a lot of hard work done, so shouting across the room to your friend or business partner may disrupt the peace a bit. Keep your voice-level low and if you need the attention of someone on the other side of the room, walk over to them to say what you need to say;
Keep your bad habits in check. Like to slurp your coffee? Got a case of the sniffles? Chew your nails and spit them out? Yeah, these are bad habits that no-one wants from the person sitting next to them. Drink your coffee when it’s cooler, keep tissues at your desk, and just try not to bite your nails. Avoiding these habits will save you a fair bit of resentment from your peers...

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