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The open-plan office: The embodiment of modern workplace environments

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The open-place office has become commonplace in the modern office environment. Similarly, flexible working is another trend that we all (must) accept. No assigned
workspaces, but all seated together in an open area. That poses some unique challenges. Where can you go when you have to focus on writing a report? What if you have to make a call and do not want to disrupt your colleagues? These are just a few examples of situations in which an open-plan office can be an obstacle rather than a pleasant working environment.
Research in Europe
Our workspaces are in a constant state of flux. According to a study conducted by Plantronics 1 among European businesses, only about half of the respondents say they come into the office five days a week.
“ In Germany, 51.4 % of employees work in the office five days a week. In France, that figure is 51.3% and in the United Kingdom, it is just 47.7%. ”
Modern technologies give today’s employees the freedom to move around in a more flexible manner and take more independent decisions regarding their workspace, both within and outside the office. Open-plan office environments that stimulate collaboration between colleagues are becoming the new norm, while fewer and fewer employees still have a permanent workspace that is all their own.

"Not all modern office environments are equipped to accommodate the needs of digital workers, for whom concentration and flexibility are key concerns. This can negatively affect their productivity and health. Most modern offices are still designed for two main activities: sitting behind your computer in an open-plan office or sitting in a meeting room. A better solution would be to create different types of workspaces that suit your employees’ needs.” (John van Hooft, CEO BakkerElkhuizen).
Reduced productivity is the most common effect of noise nuisance
The shift towards more modern, flexible environments presents professionals with new challenges. One of them is acoustics and how to deal with ambient noise. The aforementioned study also revealed that a noisy work environment has a negative impact on employees and the quality of their work.
“ In Germany, it is 96.5%, in France 93.5% and in the United Kingdom 89.9%. Research 4 in the Netherlands shows that almost two thirds indicate that they make fewer mistakes in a quieter environment. ”
Office workers in France, Germany, Great-Britain and the Netherlands say that the most common effect of a noisy work environment is having trouble concentrating,
which leads a reduced productivity. They claim they could do their work far more effectively in a less noisy setting.
“ In Germany, this problem affects 65.1% of all employees, in France 65.5% and in the United Kingdom 54.1%. ”
Getting away from the hustle and bustle
At the same time, the study points out how difficult it can be to keep distractions due to ambient noise in the workplace under control. The respondents claim that loud colleagues are their main source of noise nuisance, followed by (telephone) conversations and noise produced by the office’s technology. In most cases, there is little an individual can do about any of this. On average, 60% of the respondents in all regions wear a headset to combat the negative effects of background noise with music and become more productive. German businesses cite data entry (39.8 %) and creative work (36.7%) as the main activities where employees use music to counter noise nuisance, while people in France and the United Kingdom prefer to write emails (37.6 and 40%). Traditional open-plan offices often do not offer any variation or choice, nor are they customised for specific tasks or practices. As a result, 70% of all employees find themselves working in the same place all day long. The effect of this lack of choice is that only 33% of the respondents say they feel more energised at the end of the day.
Close-up: United Kingdom
67% of all British employees feel drained by their office environment at the end of each working day. Innovators only spend 3.5 days a week in the office, which emphasises the need for more flexibility in office design and remote working. In its 2016 Workplace Survey (source: gensler), Gensler revealed that poorly designed openplan office environments stifle innovation in businesses throughout the United Kingdom. More than eight million employees in the country work in open-plan offices, while many of these environments are not designed to stimulate people’s creativity and innovation. The study indicates that the average modern workspace is mostly suited for people in management positions.
Our solutions
“There is incontrovertible evidence that the open-plan office has a negative impact on people’s concentration, creativity and – paradoxically – communication with their colleagues. It seemed like a cheap solution, but the costs you save on office space are lost many times over as a result of your employees’ reduced performance.

“ Fortunately, more and more businesses are catching on. They offer employees different zones within the office, including quiet areas for concentrated work and other areas where people can talk to each other and work together,” says neuropsychologist Mark Tigchelaar (source: NRC).

As mentioned above, only having an open-plan office as a workspace is detrimental to employees’ productivity. It is essential to offer good alternative solutions where employees can get some peace and quiet, brainstorm together or make a phone call. Taking into account the various activities that are conducted in an office environment, we have developed a number of solutions:
The MindPod is a concentration space where people can get away from the hustle and bustle of their office and concentrate on their work. The MindPod features acoustic panels and plenty of glass and it is available in a range of designs. In other words, it makes for an ideal concentration space inside a busy open-plan office
environment.
“ Give yourself a quiet place to focus on your work. ”
ScrumRoom
ScrumRoom
Sometimes, working quietly is not all we want; we also need a space where a team can go to brainstorm or have a scrum session. Once again, an open-plan office is a poor setting for that. We have therefore developed a ScrumRoom. This space is ideal for Scrum Events. The ScrumRoom is a mobile and modular workspace concept that facilitates dynamic meetings and scrum sessions. The occupants’ visual and auditory privacy is protected by acoustic wall panels.

The five Scrum Events
  • Sprint Planning;
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective
  • The Sprint
Daily Scrum: You would prefer to hold the Daily Scrum on the work floor: get together briefly and hold a short meeting in your physical environment. There are two additional points of attention. First of all, the size of the scrum teams changes all the time in many organisations. The composition of the teams changes or they require a different structure. Secondly, as is so common in office environments, the right balance has to be found between working in an independent, focussed manner on the one hand and working and conferring together as a group on the other hand. If multiple scrum teams work side by side in an open-plan office, that requires a stronger focus on their visual and auditory privacy. In those situations, visual peace and quiet and the right acoustics are even more important.
BellBooth
The BellBooth is the perfect solution for those times when you want to make a call in a modern open-plan office environment. This acoustic telephone booth can be closed off entirely and offers a functional solution for making undisturbed calls in an open office space.
BellBooth
Recommendations
  • Invest in your workspace and tailor the space to accommodate the primary functions of your business in order to make open-plan work environments more effective;
  • Diversify by offering a range of group workspaces within the office;
  • Listen to the wishes and needs of your employees.
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