Open offices are excellent for facilitating team member interactions and creating an inclusive environment. On the flip side, this is bound to create distractions that can severely impact productivity.
While it may be de rigeur for your startup to embrace the open layout, considering laying some ground rules first so that all members of your team still feel they're able to get work done without distraction.
Eight entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer their best advice for reducing distractions and noise-related issues in open offices.
1. Offer the ability to work from home.
Who says all your work has to be done in the office? I help employees determine what has to be done from the office and what can actually be done from the comfort of their own home.
Having them come into the office a few hours late or leaving mid-afternoon to finish up their work at home has lead to increased productivity and a happier working environment.
2. Designate a quiet area.
Quiet areas can be an effective workaround to the noisy open office environment.
By designating a small area away from the commotion of the general office setting, you can provide employees with an escape when things get hectic, allowing them to complete their work in a comfortable setting.
3. Offer a variety of work spaces.
In addition to our open space, we have small and large conference rooms, two "living rooms," and an inviting kitchen. Variety gives us the option to work in the open when we want to, and find solitude when we need it.
We're also flexible with work-from-home time and hours. Some staff like to come in extra early before the crowd, while others like to take advantage of the quiet evening hours.
4. Rotate staff in shifts.
Minimizing the number of people in the open workspace at any time can help keep the noise down and create a distraction-free environment.
Having some people work from home while others come in can keep productivity higher because there are fewer people there to talk with or create noise.
5. Implement an office communications process.
We offer guidelines for respecting co-workers' space and working styles. For example, we prefer to hold meetings in a conference room, and we use Slack to communicate quickly and cut down on office chatter.
Slack has the added benefit of providing a record of the conversation in case of any confusion. If employees still have trouble focusing, noise canceling headphones can really help.
6. Book a room.
It's simple: calls should be taken in a phone booth or a conference room, pending the type of call, and any internal review meetings also happen a conference room. We treat the conference room as a person, and that person has to be in on every meeting. If the conference room can't make it, the meeting time has to be changed.
7. Implement the "headphone rule."
At mappedin, we have the "headphone rule," whereby anyone with headphones on can only be contacted via chat or email. This eliminates disruption towards someone who might be highly focused at that moment in time, and gives them the opportunity to answer when they can instead of on the spot (which can often break someone's concentration).
8. Add more noise to the office.
In a quiet room, you can hear a pin drop. In a loud room you can't even hear a brick drop. Ditch the attempts at a perfectly quiet room by instead adding background noise to drown out distractions.
Whether that's a white noise machine, an open window to the street, or even a larger common area with many people talking, background noise can be beneficial.