By Rieva Lesonsky
We all know the trend is to have an open office environment. But as you well know, there are challenges. A recent New Yorker blog, The Open-Office Trap, took a look at the history of the open office. The goal is admirable: Take down the walls (or cubicles) and you get better communication and a smoother flow of ideas. That’s the theory, anyway. But in reality, if you don’t keep an eye on what’s going on, employees can sometimes experience higher stress levels, uncontrolled interaction and dampened productivity.
That doesn’t mean an open-plan office is a bad thing—just that you need to take some extra steps to ensure you and your employees stay focused and productive. Before you use your small business loan to build some walls, here are 5 tips to help you get things done:
- Set some ground rules. Set rules so employees know what they can and can’t do in the office. Make it clear that personal phone calls are to be limited in length, restricted to lunch hours or break time, or taken out in the hallway. (No one wants to hear about the fight your coder had with her husband that morning). You can also require workers to listen to music only through headphones instead of turning the sound up on their computers. You could also create some fun “Do Not Disturb” signs workers can place on their desk when they don’t want to be disturbed.
- Have off-site meetings. With everyone in the same room, it’s easy to have a group meeting any time you want, but it might be more productive to get out of the office now and then. Set a date for a group lunch or have everyone meet offsite to hold a meeting. That way, you won’t disturb team members who aren’t needed in the meeting. If your building has an extra enclosed office available for meetings, make sure you reserve the space when you need to have a presentation or videoconference.
- Have a safe room. When possible, try to set aside an area or room for breaks and personal conversations. Giving employees the freedom to take breaks when they need to make a doctor appointment call or have a private conversation with another worker instills a culture of trust and loyalty.
- Have work-at-home days. Giving employees the flexibility to work from home when they really need to concentrate on a project shows them you understand the distractions of the office and value their work. If you need certain people in the office at different times, work out a schedule where staff can take turns telecommuting.
- Consider cubicles. If the distractions of an open office are too much for your business’s productivity, consider asking building management to erect cubicle walls or look for office space that already has them built.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at email@example.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.