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Open-concept office: Too close for comfort?


Publication Date : 29-10-2012


Cubicles are fast becoming extinct in today's workplaces as bosses opt for open-concept offices that break down social barriers and let ideas flow.

Microsoft Asia Pacific unveiled its take on the concept earlier this year at its Singapore base, creating an office where staff have no pre-assigned work space.

More recently, DBS Bank also jumped on the open-concept office bandwagon.

Its new DBS Asia Central at the Marina Bay Financial Centre features an open-plan office that incorporates "social hives" - common spaces where staff can eat, relax and interact with one another.

The bank said the office helps foster a sense of community and collaboration among staff and is supposed to mimic a communal hive where ideas are shared.

Experts say offices that have few barriers encourage collaboration and are a winning idea if employees are expected to interact regularly.

Ms Geraldine Tan, a senior psychologist from the Centre of Effective Living, said implementing an open-concept office can bring benefits such as providing staff with greater access to their managers and bosses.

But she warned that such environments may not suit everyone: "It may not work if the team leader or the boss uses this to spy or check on the staff. It elicits a sense of discomfort and suspiciousness in the team."

Apart from creating fear and anxiety among employees, said Tan, such an office may also lead to productivity taking a nosedive.

"Productivity is impacted if the employee is unable to work and is observing the activity that is going on around the room.

"(Staff) with anxiety may also worry that they are not working as hard as their colleagues."

Others may become overly chatty or spend time hanging out with colleagues instead of working.

While employees have little say over how their office looks and how their colleagues behave, there are some etiquette guidelines that can help people to work effectively.

Agnes Koh is the founder and director of Etiquette & Image International, a consultancy that offers courses on workplace protocol and business decorum.

She said noise can be one of the biggest concerns for staff working in an open-concept environment.

"Should there be a group of three, a meeting room should be the place to adjourn to, unless the meeting lasts for less than one minute," she noted.

Koh also advised against letting office telephones ring for too long. She added that employees should avoid playing "loud music or games or using the phone's loudspeaker when making calls".

Desk sharing is a common practice in open-concept offices and Ms Koh emphasised the importance of keeping a clean work area.

So whether it is an open-concept or traditional office, having a professional attitude is essential if you want to make a mark.


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