The open-plan office has come a long way since its paranoia-inducing beginnings. What began as a way to expose slack workers has evolved into our current obsession with office spaces that not only facilitate but, increasingly, force collaboration between staff. Cubicles are dead. Shared desks, hot-desk pods and quirky breakout spaces are in (at the very least).
And we’re not just talking about tech-savvy start-ups anymore; even some of the most traditionally conservative sectors have embraced unconventional design and infrastructure to keep up with employee expectations of what a cool modern office should be.
Which, for most, is Google HQ.
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The Google effect
Welcome to the era of the “Google effect” – the new benchmark in workspace design
Not only did the multibillion-dollar tech giant introduce a laundry list of recreational facilities, eateries, relaxation services and off-the-clock office hours to the working world, but their radical new approach has managed to create one of the most innovative and productive workspaces on the planet.
This, of course, has had a major ripple effect on the business world. Facilities and design approaches that once had no place in the office are now viewed not only as legitimate, but are often the main focus of the planning process.
The problem is, they shouldn’t be.
It’s not just pinball
If we can learn anything from Google, it’s certainly not that pinball machines in the kitchen, or slides instead of stairs, are a good idea.
Google didn’t just build a theme park and call it an office. What they created was a working environment perfectly suited to their unique and dynamic workforce – one that allowed their employees to make their own decisions, work comfortably, and be treated with respect. The office perks are nothing more than a genuine extension of their corporate culture, rather than what defines them as an employer.
In other words, added benefits are worthless unless they are part of a positive, and tailored, corporate culture – which begins with ensuring the most basic needs of your employees have been met. All the pinball machines and massage chairs in the world won’t mean a thing if your staff don’t want to be there in the first place. Nor will they be if the new perks don’t foster interactions that lead to better productive output.
Densely populated open-plan office drawbacks
The reality is that the densely populated open-plan offices of the modern world aren’t always easy places to work in.
In fact, they often create far worse problems than the occasional private-office slacker they were designed to weed out. Constant interruptions and personality clashes are only the tip of the iceberg when working in close proximity with others.
We can learn a lot from examples of global best practice – particularly when it comes to creativity in design and function in the workplace – but only as long as you focus on what benchmarks are relevant. Otherwise, the quest to create the coolest office will only turn your workplace into a dysfunctional one.
So before you decide where to put the pool table (if you absolutely must), here are a few more important things to consider first.
The single most important consideration of any collaborative space, and the No.1 complaint from employees. Proper spacing between workstations, intelligent placement and use of noise absorbing materials and dividers, and integration of spaces for private work is key. Interruptions will kill productivity and drive your employees nuts.
One of the most overlooked pieces of infrastructure in office fit-outs, but one of the most important. The wrong lighting can be counterproductive and downright depressing, not to mention hugely expensive if not planned and sourced properly. Get your light right.
There aren’t enough foosball tables in the world to keep employees happy if the fridge is too small. It’s a simple consideration and will save a huge amount of daily frustration, as well as encourage your employees to bring their own lunch (read: less lunch runs, more desk time).
If you’re changing the layout of your office or moving into new space, check and re-check that your temperature controls are adequate for the new plan. Different rooms, body count, computer equipment and surface areas all greatly affect the distribution of heat.
Collaboration can sometimes lead to confrontation. Make sure you have adequate space for your employees to work alone or have some quiet time if they need.
This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.