Before the health crisis, shared offices where all employees of the same company worked together flourished everywhere. ‘Open spaces’, designed to promote communication in the workplace, however show their limits and some fiercely oppose this workspace layout. The health crisis and its various confinements have forced open spaces to adapt.
The OpinionWay survey for Take a Desk, conducted from January 4 to 7, 2022 with a representative sample of 1,066 office workers in companies with 20 employees. It reveals that French respondents are in favor of the idea of sharing their offices with other people (employees, entrepreneurs, liberal professions, etc.) outside the company, but also the opportunity to revitalize the workspace, to create new synergies. Thus, for more than 8 out of 10 office workers (86%), the opportunity to meet new people is an important reason and 79% mention an effective way to promote exchanges and share skills. In this sense, welcoming new employees from outside the company is seen as a real way to develop interactions and social bonds.
Proximity to home?
It should be noted that more than two-thirds of respondents (77%) mention the usefulness of having an accessible office close to home. A way for 8 out of 10 employees to reduce their daily commute time and reduce the impact of stress and fatigue related to commuting between work and home.
Other advantages are well perceived and mentioned, such as the way to break the monotony for 66% of those surveyed –a perception felt above all by men (70%) compared to 62% of women–, the possibility of working in more large (62%). , more modern (73%) or face-to-face (56%). The pandemic will not have overcome the need to live together, quite the opposite.
Multiple uses of “open spaces”
What is the reality? The common workspaces are organized in a simple way: all the offices of the employees, whatever their hierarchical position, are juxtaposed and all the members of the company work together. This type of arrangement has spread and is found in different structures. Small businesses, startups, and other VSEs, for example, often turn to coworking spaces. These shared workplaces bring together several companies, whether or not they belong to the same sector. Most often they are presented in the form of open spaces, where all offices are arranged in the same room or even separated by thin partitions. Very practical, these places provide coworkers with desks, chairs, printers and Wi-Fi access, upon arrival, so they can work comfortably. This solution seems ideal: a single invoice and, in principle, a pleasant environment where agents from different backgrounds meet.
On the other hand, some large companies also organize their premises in open spaces. All employees are grouped in one place, branch by branch. The offices of each are linked and have everything they need on site, so employees have to travel as little as possible. Shared workspaces therefore appear to be a practical arrangement for the workers who use them.
A shared workspace to break down barriers
Meeting in a space without partitions brings employees together and centralizes resources. This operation represents, in fact, a phenomenal time saver for leaders: all their employees face them and it is difficult for them to escape. A question can be answered in seconds since the person is in front of them. In the UK, this workspace arrangement is very popular: 80% of English offices would take the form of shared offices. These save time, improve communication, but also save space and better control everyone’s activities. A study by researchers Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear stated in the Journal of Environmental Psychology: “The argument for open space promoting enthusiasm and productivity appears to have no academic basis… This observation means that if employees appreciate this type of space, it has not been tested.There is also research that goes in this direction.Scientists from the American University of Cornell have shown that this type of arrangement would generate more stress among employees.
Some disadvantages that rhyme with “open space”
These common offices have the advantage of putting everything in place, equipment and employees. Except that among the latter, some might not support the concept. It’s still very convenient to have everything available, but being glued to your colleagues all day can be a stress factor. If team members know each other well, it can be nice, but more reserved collaborators can feel a bit squeezed or even watched. Ordinary workspaces also retain a reputation for being noisy places where it can sometimes be difficult to concentrate. The socio-economist and research director of the CNRS, Alain Iribarne, summarizes these considerations: “Managers raise the myth of “project work” and “harmonious and creative cooperation”, but open-space can be pathogenic, (… .), facilitates surveillance and competition between employees, a stress factor that often leads to the opposite of the desired goal, with employees isolating themselves by wearing headphones or hiding behind mountains of files or green plants…”
Who really benefits from this type of arrangement?
The debate about open spaces and other shared offices has been going on for several years. Some praise its merits while others dispute it. Therefore, one wonders who has more interest in adopting this mode of operation. Several elements mentioned above can put us in the way: being directly in front of your employees allows you to keep an eye on their activity and increase productivity. This method also improves communication between team members, all positioned next to each other. The protesters respond that their privacy is being undermined by this design in which they feel spied on. Convenient for managers, irritating for some employees, it would seem that business leaders are the main beneficiaries of these types of spaces. Sociologist Thérèse Evette confirms this hypothesis by pointing out that “open spaces are both the design most valued by managers and the most questioned by employees”. Without falling into the dramatic scenario in which the employees go crazy and the bosses continue to be tyrannical, it is still possible to set up a common office so that it is not too invasive for the employees while maintaining the advantage of proximity to others.
Some tips to make a shared office less stuffy
Constantly working under the gaze of your superiors is obviously a stress factor. However, there are some simple gestures to make this situation less oppressive. The need to take breaks is still important, cutting off contact, visually, soundly, with employees for a few minutes can do a lot of good. Setting up a small personal space on your desk is also motivating, place a few pictures that remind you of good memories or personal objects that can comfort you. To reduce the pressure on employees constantly watched by their superiors, it is also necessary to show them that these same leaders are still human! Recruit your team, organize afterworks, collective lunches, so that they don’t feel supervised only by chefs, but above all by other people.