Recently, after Tall Ship Races and famous Heineken Open’air Festival, Gdynia opened city for second edition of Gdynia DesignDays.
The idea of this event was to integrate artists from countries over Baltic Sea, and give them opportunity to present their art-work on exhibitions or sell them in specially arranged containers. You could see there strange and beautiful projects, modern, known and unknown products and innovative items or furniture.
Beside exhibitions, many open conferences and workshops took place. One of them was lecture about open – plan offices issue, given by Małgorzata Grzyb, well-experienced designer and manager at Martel’s planning office. Quick lecture turned into heated dispute where debaters accused open – plan offices to be unsuccessful relict. Małgorzata emphasized their importance in improving the efficiency of every office worker.
What’s all about?
“(…)Open plan is the generic term used in architectural and interior design for any floor plan which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices in which there are no defined property boundaries such as hedges, fences or walls.” (Wikipedia)
Open spaces have a twisted reputation
“Open – plan office is violating human psyche, which effects with serious health problems” – say Australian researchers.
“(…)In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open – plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover. The high level of noise causes employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity” – says researcher Dr Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.
Another problem of open spaces is their lack of privacy. Everyone can see what we are doing on the computer at the moment, hear our private phone conversations – this leads workers to depression and insecurity. According to evolution, every human has right to have his own territory – even at work. Employees also fear that their labor and effort, put in work, won’t be noticeable by employer.
From physical side, “working in an open-plan office could contribute to higher blood pressure”, Dr Oommen said, and an increased risk of illnesses as bugs such as the influenza virus were more swiftly passed around.
Open space gives a perfect opportunity to improve communication and information flow, so solving various problems and issues can be faster and more efficient. What’s more, workers form higher level can easily share experience with those who are lower in career hierarchy.
Open – plan offices are conductive for cementing interpersonal relationships or creating own identity above the others (as a leader, coordinator etc.) Individual work is now in background, open space put teamwork on the top. It’s also a good training in working and behaving in large group. Psychology thesis says (mere exposition effect), that the more often we tend to see particular people, the more we like them. Open spaces favors building positive bonds? Yes, but only when one has an opportunity to choose between contacting or avoiding it.
On the another hand, for employer open – plan offices mean lower cost of arranging working place and much more control under employees and their work.
How to arrange working space for web developers?
Agile Development philosophy promotes dividing room into two quarters – one for those who want to work individualy – providing them an ability for privacy – and the other – for those who are working in groups.
Agile also suggests that working in pairs is a perfect working condition for web developers. Employees may initially criticize moving to open – plan office, but after few months they will appreciate benefits of working together.
Teasley Stephanie made a research about putting web developers together (in the experiment researchers use term “radical collocation” ). Teasley proved that this procedure has a good influence on employees efficiency.
“(…) Our study of six teams that experienced radical collocation showed that in this setting they produced remarkable productivity improvements. Although the teammates were not looking forward to working in close quarters, over time they realized the benefits of having people at hand, both for coordination, problem solving and learning.“(Rapid Software Development Through Team Collocation, Teasley S., Covi L., Krishnan M.S.,Olson J.)
Looking for compromise
Forcing people to work in a team or open – plan office is not good idea, it may result with escaping team or quitting job in general. It’s good to discuss possible removal to open – plan office with every team member. During the discussion we should take into consideration every opinion, fear of our employees and point costs / gainings of such move.
Are open – plan offices better than private, little territories? This is a question which every employer should take under individual consideration. What about working in such open – plan office ?
- Agile Development, Shore J., Warden S., Warsaw, 2008, p. 142-143