An open office is what it sounds like: a workspace that has an open floor plan rather than traditional cubicles or private offices. Although the concept is not new, the design norm has been readily adopted by businesses. As of 2010, 68%
of offices had open floor layouts or open floor seating. More traditional or "corporate" companies like Citigroup and American Express are among the many organizations adopting this style and even encouraging executives to accept new seating arrangements.
This trend has created "hot-desking" workspaces where employees do not have assigned desks, but rather hop around each day based on availability. With no designated workspace of their own, some companies provide employees with lockers to store their items and paperwork.
Many companies prefer the design for its minimalism and as a cost-cutting strategy. Employers can maximize square footage—potentially saving millions of dollars on less real estate. Others make the change because they believe it encourages employee communication and engagement. They seek to tear down physical barriers that once alienated coworkers to promote an atmosphere of connectivity and collaboration. Open offices can also be symbolically egalitarian
. By eliminating traditional offices, many see the removal of social hierarchies and competition for the corner office.
However, does "hot-desking" benefit workers or make them feel like corporate nomads?
What's the Cost?
It is clear that open office floor plans lower overhead costs, but lost productivity may make them more expensive. A 2011 study
featured in the Telegraph mentioned that open-plan offices reduce staff productivity by 15%. As a result, this new trend toward open spaces may not be as cost-effective
as originally thought if this means employees are less productive in these environments.
Bedouins of the Workplace
"Hot-desking" can make people feel unsettled and stressed. If you have to store all your work in a locker like you are in high school and then wander around each day to find your temporary workspace, you are effectively "corporate homeless." Exposure to this nomadic lifestyle can be stressful. Not knowing where and near whom you are going could waste time and make you anxious.
A 2014 Steelcase
study of more than 10,500 workers showed that around 95% of respondents valued working privately, with many working remotely to be productive. This direction implies some companies are moving in a way that is contrary to how people prefer to work.
Six Tips to Better Manage Your Hot-Desking Stress
Since "hot-desking" is not disappearing anytime soon, you need to learn how to limit stress and manage through working in these environments. Here are six tips to help you better cope.
1. Bring Headphones
Open offices can have many distractions. Bringing headphones and listening to calming tunes can help you block out noise and focus. Even if you do not listen to music, white noise offers an alternative to musical distractions and can drown out ambient sounds. However, you have to balance this with not appearing standoffish. You may have to tolerate some noise to be perceived as a team player. The perfect time to use them would be when you need to concentrate or relax.
2. Stake a Claim
Many people embrace the nomadic nature of the open office and "hot-desking" culture—migrating from workplace to workplace throughout the day. That, however, could make some people feel unstable. If you work in an open office, do not be afraid to choose a spot and make it your own. If you frequently use the same location, people may start to recognize it as your desk and not sit there while you are away. Letting your colleagues know that you feel most comfortable in a location can prevent anxiety.
3. Take Short Breaks
A major cause of stress in an open office is the lack of privacy. People welcome privacy to address occasional issues and when having important business calls. Taking scheduled breaks to be alone or check messages could help you de-stress and benefit your productivity. It also gives you an opportunity to clear your head. Go for a short walk, or seek out a private corner where you can get five minutes to yourself.
4. Make Friends and Play Nice
Being friendly with your colleagues can reduce office stress. Instead of hating your workplace or resenting those around you, make an effort to get along. It will make going to the office more enjoyable.
Being likable and gaining friends has an added benefit. The more that people like you, the less likely they are to be offended if you ask them to move a conversation when you are racing to finish a project. The reality is that people who are liked go further in their careers. When you feel liked, you enjoy your job and coworkers more. This action decreases stress and raises your happiness. Also, being friendly can make it easier to collaborate or adapt to the socially-demanding task of working in an open office.
5. Add a Personal Touch
The lack of identity in an open office is unsettling for many people. No longer can you hang your alma mater's pennant on a cubicle wall, but that does not mean you cannot personalize your workspace.
Keep a few items in your locker. Having a framed family picture is a nice way to show that you control "your" workspace.
6. Is It Time to Bounce? Evaluate If the Environment Is Right for You
Maybe the "hot-desking" environment is not a fit for you. If the office space is causing too much stress, reconsidering your job setting may be necessary.
The Steelcase study
showed that people who were satisfied with their environment also felt like they belonged to the company and its culture. If you are feeling stressed or dread going to your office, it may not be you. You might be incompatible with your employer, and thus, you may need a job change.
If changing jobs anytime soon is off the table or too stressful in and of itself, consider being proactive in your workplace. Do not suffer at your job waiting for change. Other colleagues may be experiencing the same stress. Cooperating to create designated quiet zones could provide a solution for those that want fewer distractions. Also, suggesting the installation of phone booths or added conference rooms could help limit noise when you need privacy or a place to yourself. At the end of the day, you need to be realistic about what type of change is feasible with your employer and possibly focus on drafting a long-term exit strategy. In the meantime, you should focus on new ways to cope before you can transition to your next opportunity.
The "hot-desking" trend takes its toll on people in different ways. Certain employees may be bothered more by the constant migrating than the noise levels and vice-versa. Ultimately, you should not dread going into work or feel forced to stay home to be productive. Learning what tips work for you and applying them on a daily basis can vastly improve the quality of your workday.
The Azara Group (TAG) is a consulting firm that promotes the development of leaders in an increasingly competitive and diverse marketplace—providing strategy consulting services and leadership training services to advance professional and life success. TAG leverages expertise in career strategy, diversity, negotiation skills, and business acumen to provide strategic advice and consulting services to help people and organizations get what they want, achieve their goals, and advance their business and career objectives. TAG also helps companies better attract, retain, and promote diverse talent, and develop robust diversity platforms and strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.
The Azara Group welcomes your direct comments and feedback. We do not post comments to our site at this time, but we value hearing from our readers. We invite you to share your thoughts with us. You can contact us directly at [email protected].