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Aug16

The New Victory of Walls?

Open Workspace Trend for the 21st Century

Almost half of British workers in open-plan offices are dissatisfied with the noise levels, and want more control of the temperature and light levels in their environment, according to a recent survey for Savills and the British Council for Offices.

Tom Ough, writing in the Telegraph, claims the results of the survey, matched with an increase in flexible office layouts that resurrect at least some walls, could be the death knell for the open-plan office.

The advantage of flexible layouts of course is in the name – they’re flexible, allowing offices to deliver spaces for individual focus as well as the wide open spaces for which open-plan layouts are famous.

Such layouts also increasingly famous for rising noise levels and grinding irritation, as unrestrained conversation flourishes about everything from who won The X-Factor to Next-Door’s dog. What’s more, with open-plan layouts, seasonal infections tend to spread fast, leading in some instances to waves of sickness.

More and more, layouts which combine the best of both worlds - the quiet of cubicles and the creativity-friendly egalitarianism of open-plan – are coming back into fashion.
‘It’s about giving control back to people,’ says Dr Matthew Davis, who studies the psychology of office design at Leeds University Business School.

Dr Davis’s research has highlighted the poor hygiene and frequent distractions of open-plan offices. One report even found that the loss of productivity is so great in an open-plan office that it outweighs the money saved by putting everyone in the same room.

‘We’re moving towards what is known in the trade as activity-based working,’ says Jeremy Myerson, the Helen Hamlyn Chair of Design at the Royal College of Art, ‘in which people have a range of spaces in which they work.’

Myerson says organisations are now seeking flexible, modern offices with private pods where workers can work without interruption, with protocols such as no talking on mobile phones, for instance. Quiet carriages, effectively – but at work.

Far from the uniformity and blandness of open-plan as we know it, the current vogue is towards recognising the need to tune out the world - Google Zurich has its own aquarium, where employees seeking some time out lounge meditatively in bathtubs.

Not every workplace will be knocking up an aquarium any time soon, but designers are increasingly mindful of our occasional need to escape the hubbub, and are integrating such spaces (on rather more modest budgets!) into designs for clients.

When you’re planning your office design, it might be just as wise to remember the need your staff will have to get away from each other as it is to remember the need they’ll have to work together.

Whatever you decide your office should look like, talk to Enaflo about getting the balance right between friendliness and innovation to deliver what your company needs

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