How can we leave the open plan behind while desktop work endures?

open plan office cubicleWith all the chatter regarding BYOD and wearable tech, you’d think that the average worker must roam free. Yet worldwide, over three quarters (79 percent) of office workers still use a desktop computer; just over a third (36 percent) have devices that allow for mobility and only 39 percent of office workers can work from alternative places at least once a week. Those were just some of the results of a global survey carried out by Steelcase into levels of satisfaction amongst office workers. And far from encouraging mobile working the survey found that well over half (57 percent) of companies do not have facilities for mobile workers and external suppliers. Such low levels of mobility had led a significant proportion (41 percent) of the 7324 participants from 10 countries, to say they were “not satisfied” with their work environment.

The problem is, if workers are stick more or less stuck to the same spot most of the day, how do you make it as comfortable as possible, and what kind of office layout is preferable? The office cubicle was developed as the perfect way to bridge the gap between individuals’ privacy and open plan workspaces and its popularity endures in many countries around the world as a result.

Yet the cubicle and other manifestations of the open plan can contribute to make people feel penned in, and because the fabric of the cubicle and the high walls restricted the airflow, studies suggest that poor ventilation could have a detrimental effect on office workers health, causing low productivity and increased sick leave. It also blocks natural light. However, the open plan remains a key feature of many workspaces today.

The Steelcase research revealed that when it comes to creating the ideal work space, the things office workers want most of all are:

  1. More natural light.
  2. Effective heating and air conditioning
  3. Better use of their office space.

On a local level, British workers emphasise that better lighting and more control over temperature setting would also be a big step towards their dream office.

Good natural light, a space which allows free movement and a choice of posture means that workers can feel a sense of belonging and authenticity which has been shown to be vital for creative work.

Bostjan Ljubic, vice president Steelcase UK and Ireland explains: “We need to leave the isolated, office cubicles of the past behind and focus on a solution that combines privacy and openness. The research highlights that workers are looking for a space with a dual functionality; a space to relax and focus, where workers are given the power to make decisions over their own working environment. It is therefore of paramount importance to create a work space that caters for different work styles in the office –uniting the private and open work space.”