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Keeping an open mind to open plan

We were asked last week, by one of the leading FM titles, to comment on the problems with privacy that are associated with the open-plan environment.

Open-plan is often cited as a problem when we first sit down with clients as we have a number of American-owned clients who prefer the cellular office style but struggle to accommodate this in UK office spaces and culture. It's very much a key part of our job to work with all clients to come up with creative solutions that enthuse as well as benefit them and it's this part of the working day - the problem-solving bit - that gives the most job satisfaction.

Open-plan is not just a privacy issue. Problems often revolve around noise as it can impair concentration and have a knock on effect on productivity - a scourge to any business. We've worked out ways to compensate for this with low level screening just above mouth height to muffle the noise - which also allows for a degree of privacy - and the introduction of what we refer to as 'phone booths'.

All offices need some quiet space away from open-plan areas. These booth-style solutions have two sides and a back and include a phone and a shelf with a datapoint for the plugging in of laptops and any other necessary equipment. They give extra privacy for phone calls, in particular, as well as enabling the occupant to work in these spaces. The booths can be glass panelled, with a door making up a fourth wall for maximum privacy, if specified.

We also suggest diner style booths for some of our clients, depending on available space and the culture of the office. Again, these allow for more flexible working away from the main open-plan areas. For example, we use benches against solid walls with long tables as a potential space for a meeting. It's less formal than a conference room and the benches and tables can be placed in a breakout space.

We've just completed a project for a London design agency which has included a 'den' - a comfy area which is especially designated for those who need some privacy to conduct telephone calls, proof documents etc. This was included to address the open-plan issue as it was mooted, at the start, that staff would appreciate a space they could move to, separate from the shared office environment, for quiet time and privacy.

Part of our role is to empathise with the needs of the our clients and work with the facilities managers and office managers to plan space around the various functions of the business. We wouldn't put a call centre next to an accounts department, for example.

Our clients come to us because, as workspace specialists, we are expert at thinking around the structure of how the business is run and planning the space accordingly - it's our job to make the space work and to ensure that privacy levels meet the clients' requirements.

The days of cellular offices may be over but there is plenty that can be done with open-plan spaces to accommodate all needs - and that's what we're here for.

If you want a hand with your space planning, then give our expert consultants a call on 0870 743 0925.


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