Workplace Topics

April 24, 2013

Q&A: Change office layout to improve employee morale

Q&A: Change office layout to improve employee morale

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Q: Our department's physical layout has created a lot of problems. My employees work in a completely open area without cubicles or dividers. There are no enclosed spaces where we can talk privately about confidential matters, such as personal problems or performance issues. The staff frequently complains that it's difficult to concentrate with so many people around.

I have suggested wearing headphones, but no one seems to like that idea. Instead, I get a lot of requests to work from home, which creates its own set of problems. We're about to move to a new building, which gives me an opportunity to reconfigure our space. What would you suggest?

A: Fortunately, the completely open work environment is a fad that now seems to be dying. A little privacy should improve both productivity and morale, so install cubicles or dividers to reduce noise and other distractions. Although some people can focus in a hurricane, most employees find that constant movement and conversation make it difficult to concentrate.

Do not assume, however, that a revised floor plan will automatically eliminate those work-at-home requests. Apart from escaping office chaos, people may also enjoy working in their pajamas and avoiding traffic snarls. So unless you plan to eliminate this privilege altogether, you need to develop a clear telecommuting policy.

To encourage collaboration, the new layout should include a small conference room or meeting area where colleagues can gather to discuss plans and projects. And since every manager must be able to have private conversations, be sure to give yourself an office with a door.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Send in questions at yourofficecoach.com.

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