According to Sukhdeep Aurora, Chief People Officer - Anarock Property Consultants, the worst mistake a company makes while considering the adoption of an open office workplace environment is applying a cookie-cutter approach and not factoring in the specific needs of their business and employees.
Getting the equation right
Aurora says getting the open office equation right helps employees to feel unrestricted and simultaneously encourages productive interactions. “Getting it wrong results in demotivated, unenthusiastic and downright resentful employees. Open office may not be the best model for every type of business. For instance, employees of software companies – particularly those focused on the gaming and KPO verticals – and banking firms may not necessarily thrive in such an environment.”
However, the open office plan is ideal for companies whose business model is essentially consultative and collaborative. He adds, “The consulting aspect is not merely an outward function related to clients, but also an inward-focused dynamic involving the free exchange of knowledge and information. The open office plan works precisely in this manner – it encourages interaction, teamwork and the free flow of information. These are critical ingredients for success in a real estate consultancy.”
Essential success ingredients
A company must ensure that the adoption of the open office plan does not involve congested pockets but a due level of personal space. Simply jamming large populations together without any plan, merely to yield as many workspaces as possible, is rarely anything but counter-productive.
Aurora tells us, “The plan must be a welcoming one, and for this, spaciousness and the right facilities for different functions to deliver on their assigned work are de rigueur. Provisions need to be made for closed spaces to enable fruitful focus teamwork. Open seating spaces need to be complemented with breakout rooms for smaller team meetings and meetings with clients, as well as recreational areas.”
Another very essential aspect is the provision of sufficient close-door ‘phone booths’ integrated into the plan to enable an unhindered environment for important or confidential calls. Different teams have different ways of working optimally. For instance, a research team needs a certain degree of privacy as the research process is intensely academic and often also involves confidential data.
Transaction teams, on the other hand, must invariably work in close conjunction with each other - especially in the case of multi-platform mandates, which require the involvement of several different teams.
From ‘closed’ to ‘open’ - overcoming change resistance
The open office plan requires a change of mindset for everyone coming from a background of traditional office setups. Aurora explains this as, “The senior leadership must lead by example by being the first and quickest to adapt.
Many new firms today began with the open office plan. However, many employees – including senior management – tend to come from a traditional office environment.
Throwing everyone into the water and assuming that they will swim because there is no other option is not the right way of approaching the inevitable change resistance. It is important that the company creates sufficient awareness about the undoubted benefits of the open office layout.”
The Human Resources team can achieve much of this task at the time of recruitment, and this would be an ongoing process in a constantly growing firm.
Audio-visuals which explain the open office philosophy in general and the specific layout in this company, in particular, can be very useful in helping new employees to grasp its purposes and benefits.
“Simultaneously, the open office plan should remain inherently flexible. The eventuality of future changes must be factored in at the design stage itself. The company must always open to suggestions for certain changes from all levels of staff, take genuinely valuable suggestions seriously and also implement them,” Aurora says.
The idea should not be to enforce a rigid system but to create a wholesome, dynamic work environment which can change according to evolving needs.