Shifting to an Open-office Layout
Should there be an office Open- office layout during COVID19?
Shifting to an Open-office Layout
Before the onset of Covid-19, many organizations had adopted an open-office layout for their employees, and others were considering shifting to it. Employers found the system to be effective in organization management, thus feeling the need to adopt it. The layout has advantages such as cost-effectiveness, easier office supervision, smooth communication, easy sharing of office equipment, and discouraging absenteeism. However, like any other office layout, it has cons, such as noise and lack of privacy. Before adopting the open-office design, organizations have to consider specific steps when considering adopting it. Most incorporate Kurt Lewin’s “Three Step Model.” The organizations that adopted the system flourished, for they benefited more from it. Thereby, this paper seeks to elaborate on the organizations’ steps when considering the shift to open-office layout, its advantages, and disadvantages.
Steps for a Shift
Kurt Lewin’s “Three Step Model ” is essential when considering the shift from offices and cubicles to an open-office layout. Lewin’s model involves three steps, including unfreezing, changing, and refreezing (Chapter14, n.d.). Lewin suggests that before adopting change, an organization must create the perception that change is needed, and then moved to the desired change, and later solidifies the new environment as the norm. The theory assumes that change will meet resistance, thus requiring prior preparations lest it fails. The first step is “unfreezing”, where the organization ensures the employees are ready for the change from offices and cubicles to an open-office layout. The organization creates a vision for change, communicates a plan for change, develops a sense of urgency, builds a coalition, provides support, and allows employees to participate (Chapter14, n.d.). In this step, the organization informs their employees of the impending change, convincing them of the need for the change. Employees are given time to air their opinion about the subject. The organization makes it their priority to ensure the employees understand the reasons for the shift. Informing employees of the impending change reduces opposition to the change.
The second step is “change”, where the change is executed. In this stage, the planned changes are effected thus, the organization shifts from the use of offices and cubicles to an open-office layout. The organization continues to provide support, creates small wins, and eliminates obstacles (Chapter14, n.d.). Since the employees were informed of the organization’s plan, they comply with the shift making it smooth. The employees can now settle in the new organization layout, for they had already been prepared for it. Finally, the final stage of “refreezing” is implemented, ensuring the change becomes permanent. In this step, the organization ensures every employee is adjusting well to the new office layout making the new rules, habits and procedures the norm. Here the organization publicizes success, builds on prior change, rewards change adoption, and makes change a part of organizational culture (Chapter14, n.d.). Once these three steps are followed, change is likely to take place smoothly and be successful.
Pros of an Open Office Layout
The open-office layout provides easy supervision of employees. Since everyone is in a centralized area, supervisors have an easy job at overseeing the junior employees (Lee, 2010). The senior employees and managers can constantly be in touch with the staff due to a central location. They do not have to go from office to office to track down someone. Besides, in case of an office conflict, the staff is can easily access the management who are amongst them. Thus, problems are handled much faster. Haynes (2008) posits that easy supervision of employees reduces conflicts emerging in the office, and those that emerge can be resolved quickly. This coordination between the management and the employees improves efficiency both in supervision and problem solving, thus increasing productivity.
Open space offices are more cost-effective. They save on construction costs significantly as companies will not need to build many walls and several separate rooms to put up offices (Haynes, 2008). Fewer materials are used compared to those used in constructing separate rooms, thus cheaper. Besides, an open office layout minimizes the cost of operation. For instance, different rooms would mean office drawers and fancy chairs for each office, and with other designs come inconsistent decorations. Open space layout offices save on rent, many employees in a small office setting doing productive work is cost-effective. A company would pay a lot of rent for separate rooms to accommodate its employees. Further, costs of electricity and air conditioning in terms of money spent daily are minimized. All employees being in the same space means all lighting and air conditioning is central, contrary to several different offices having separate lighting installations which consume more energy.
The open-office layout discourages absenteeism. Lee (2010) connotes that since employees are in a centralized area, they will be discouraged from failing to come to work because their absenteeism will be noticed. With all employees being in a shared room, it is easy to detect if a college did not report to work on a particular day. Some employees would even go to the management complaining that a given colleague did not report to work and they will not be willing to do his /her. This absenteeism would result in a certain punishment to discourage others from even thinking of being absent. In some cases, the penalty could be dire and lead to being fired, especially if they were absent without notification. This enhances discipline within the organization.
Open-plan offices break down barriers in communication. Having all employees working in one office setting makes collaborations and communication effective. Discussions are made easier in an open plan layout hence advantageous where employees are grouped into teams to perform given tasks (Lee, 2010). For instance, one can simply walk towards a coworker and have a direct conversation with him rather than sending emails thus, speeding up response time. Easy communications give way for collaborations and sharing of ideas making employees more productive. Teamwork also thrives in an open office layout because communications are made easier with interactions among office workers. Effective communication improves interactions among employees leading to transparency. Low-level employees can easily interact with managers because a sense of equity is visible when both managers and employees are in one office. This interaction with less formality eliminates hostility among employees.
Cons of an Open Office Layout
The open-office layout is faced with noise which can cause distractions and disturbances. This office layout increases the probability of interruptions from fellow employees, which can interfere with concentration, thus affecting workflow. According to Evans and Johnson (2000), most people find it difficult to concentrate in a noisy environment with their work performance tampers. For instance, if a group of 20 other employees were talking in the office, it would be difficult for team members to concentrate. At times, some of the coworkers who were busy with their daily work would be attracted to join in on the story leaving their work unattended. Therefore the open-office layout increases distractions which lower performance.
There is a lack of privacy in the open-office layout as most employees share a room. Team members have to compromise on privacy, for they share a common room. The open-office configuration prevents workers from having a moment of solitude and personal conversations (Lee, 2010). Since workers share a standard room and sometimes a common office table, they will not feel comfortable having private conversations because their coworkers could hear everything they speak due to the proximity. Moreover, senior employees may feel disregarded, especially since they have been placed in the same room as other junior employees. They would feel like their rank has not been accorded the respect they deserve. This could make the uncomfortable employees working in these organizations for their privacy is compromised.
Therefore, Kurt Lewin’s “Three Step Model” is essential when an organization is deciding to shift from the use of offices and cubicles to an open-office layout. Lewin’s model involves three steps, including unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. The open office layout has its merits such as cost-effectiveness, discouraging absenteeism and breaking down barriers in communication. However, it also has demerits, including lack of privacy and noise, which can cause distractions and disturbances. The strengths of the open-office layout are more than its few weaknesses. Organizations adopting this office layout are more likely to flourish, for they will benefit more from its advantages. Thereby, it is recommendable for an organization to maximize its efficiency and performance to adopt the open-office layout.
Chapter 14. (n.d.): Organizational Structure and Change.
Evans, G. W., & Johnson, D. (2000). Stress and open-office noise. Journal of applied psychology, 85(5), 779.
Haynes, B. P. (2008). The impact of office layout on productivity. Journal of facilities Management.
Lee, Y. S. (2010). Office layout affecting privacy, interaction, and acoustic quality in LEED-certified buildings. Building and Environment, 45(7), 1594-1600.