Behind the Blue: Making the Most of Open Office Concept: Pros and Cons

If you type ‘open concept workspace’ into Google, the second autofill suggestion is ‘open plan workspace failure 2018.’ Apparently, 2018 was the year the open-concept workspace died – a memo we didn’t get a Blue Summit Supplies, since our open-plan office is alive and well. But we’ve learned there are open office concept pros and cons.

We’ve never been averse to doing things differently, and an open-concept office fits in perfectly with our ethos of collaboration and transparency. Not to mention we’re still in our early stages, and a smaller staff means the entire in-house team can fit into one renovated classroom.

We’ll be honest: our ‘openness’ is less about bucking the norm and more about necessity. Our staff so far has been small and with our rapid growth, our day-to-day needs change so quickly that the ability to interface with each other without barriers is a must. We know looking into some sound-dampening tools may have to happen in the future, but over the last half-year, we’ve not only made our open office space work – we’ve enthusiastically embraced it.

Here are some ways we’ve made the most of an open-concept workspace.


Taking advantage of the collaborative environment

The clear benefit of an open-plan office is how it promotes connection between colleagues and fosters an environment of collaboration. In traditional offices, employees are grouped according to department, tucked behind walls and hidden around partitions. In an open-plan office, the lack of barriers means everyone knows one another and feels comfortable collaborating together. This can lead to unexpected innovation.

Here at BSS, our open layout often leads to unexpected input and the generation of new ideas from several different departments. When we get shipments of product samples, we all excitedly jump up to study the latest office supplies we get to play with. This all leads to more ideas and better quality control!


Protecting privacy

Of course, the flip-side of this constant collaboration is the perceived lack of privacy. Thankfully there are ways around this if your space allows. For us, our entire space is one large renovated classroom with a cordoned-off area for conferences – meaning there is nowhere in the office that allows for complete privacy.

We surmount this obstacle by creating our own privacy spaces. For example, personal phone calls are taken in the (usually) deserted hallway outside, or downstairs in an empty room. Interviews with prospective contractors or clients are held in similar ‘extra’ rooms if we can get access, or we conduct them in the restaurants housed in our office park. This 'thinking outside the box' solution doubles as a way for us to show off our vibrant city culture, as well as the laid-back company culture. We're not a big corporation; there are no pristine, glass-walled conference rooms. Instead we like to work hard and play hard, and we want our colleagues to experience this, too.


Using headphones in an open office concept


Protecting focus

In that same vein, being able to ‘shut out’ extemporaneous distractions is a necessity if you’re going to commit to an open-plan office. Earbuds are a good way to ensconce yourself in a little bubble of privacy, or noise-cancelling headphones if you need to bring in the big guns. Everyone at Blue Summit Supplies has some sort of noise-blocker.


Taking breaks – without guilt!

It’s impossible to work for eight hours straight at maximum productivity. Studies show breaks can enhance overall focus and productivity. Taking a moment to think about something other than work is away for you to avoid burnout.

At BSS, we're all about maximizing productivity through brief breaks. Our CEO and founder Owen Franklin has a miniature putt-putt green by his desk, and oftentimes will play NCIS on the office television. Our marketing department regularly takes walks around the building to brainstorm and kick around ideas, professional and otherwise. And of course, there's Larry - we take as many Larry cuddle breaks as she wants!


Collaborating in an open office concept: pros and cons


Working from home on occasion

Allowing your staff to work from home is a good way to show trust and promote positivity and can often increase employee satisfaction. There are some tasks that require the absolute focus and relaxation an open-plan office can’t give, and giving your team the option of occasionally taking an ‘at home’ workday to knock out responsibilities is a way to provide this. Plus, studies show employees who occasionally work from home are more productive than their always-in-office counterparts. We keep this in mind at BSS, since we all work from home on occasion and stay connected via Slack.


Keeping space clean

A cluttered workspace is a surefire way to distract employees. Research shows that office mess sharply reduces concentration, since having many things in your field of vision makes it difficult to focus. In an open-plan workspace, everyone else’s mess becomes your mess. Make sure to keep the office tidy; find ways to enforce neatness that don't feel oppressive or judgmental. Be an example and keep your own desk clean. Consider hiring a cleaning crew, like we have. Ours comes every two weeks and we take advantage of the minor disruption to straighten up our desks and empty our trash cans. We also all take turns taking out the bulk garbage; habits like these will keep your workspace tidy.

Team building in an open concept office space


Getting to know your colleagues

In traditional office spaces, it’s easy to feel isolated with just your direct teammates. Creative teams rarely interact with finance teams, and sales rarely has much to do with executives. In an open plan workspace, everyone knows everyone, which creates a spirit of camaraderie and team-mindedness. This is especially on display at BSS, where thanks to our openness and constant communication, we've become more like family than traditional coworkers.


Accepting the inevitability of open office pros and cons

Working in close quarters without barriers is an opportunity for growth and an opportunity for stressors. And really, all our suggestions come down to respect. If you’re the boss, respect your employees – allow them to stay fresh and take breaks without repercussions. Encourage individual methods of ‘handling’ the openness of the office space, including headphones other personal ways to reduce distractions. Promote collaboration but protect privacy, too.

If you’re the employee, respect your colleagues. Find ways to reduce distracting or disruptive behaviors and instead make the most of the openness of your office. And if done right, you can find ways to do a little bit of work and play in the office, which can promote productivity and overall happiness!


How else do you make the most of your open-plan office? How do you handle open office pros and cons? Leave us a comment or find us on social media to let us know!


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Grace Treutel is Blue Summit Supplies' Director of Culture. Currently she’s in training to become a Marriage & Family Therapist though her greatest love will always be the written word. Her three novel manuscripts have not yet been published - but just you wait. She lives in Huntsville with her  cute kids and cute pets.

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