Offices Need to Change – Part 1

During this Covid19 outbreak, isolation is a word we are getting used to.  Being apart.  Keeping our distance.  At Spacer Pods, we are thinking about how our pods can help adjust office spaces to the new normality.  We may come back to this in a later post but what about the office environment more generally?  Before Coronavirus, the trend was already away from noisy, distraction-packed open-plan offices.  Workers were already craving private spaces in which to work undisturbed, at least for part of the day.  Or else they were looking for somewhere to recharge before returning to the fray.In the UK the proportion of workers in open-plan offices is twice the global average.  Such spaces are believed to encourage communication and collaboration, which they do, but at a cost.  Introverts, but not only introverts, prefer to work where they will not be disturbed.  Many workers feel their ‘style is cramped’ by the knowledge that colleagues can hear every word of a negotiation or difficult phone call.  Being too close can make employees behave like people sharing a lift.  At the same time there is no advantage in being in an open-plan office when colleagues are at the other end of a huge hangar-like room.  They might as well be at desks in Luxembourg, where you could email them just as quickly.  The real reason so many of us work in such places has nothing to do with communication philosophy and everything to do with the high cost of office space in Britain.

Increasingly employees are voicing their concerns.  They like work environments they can control, they like to be able to concentrate without being interrupted.  They don’t want the background noise.  In a 2018 survey by Oxford Economics 63% of workers said they lacked space for focussed work.  Many reported a negative effect on their productivity, satisfaction and well-being.  Millennials were more likely to be accustomed to open-plan offices: they were more likely to have started their careers in them but, interestingly, they were also more likely to criticise these layouts than older workers, less likely to describe them as energizing.  Perhaps they were more aware of the coffee-shop, laptop-on-my-shoulder alternatives.