More and more we see the trend towards open office space and hot desks being associated with increased innovation, productivity and teamwork. But what are the costs to these types of work spaces and how do we take what we might already have and turn it into something that works better?

A recent study from the Auckland University of Technology reported that employees who have to share their office with more than two people have high levels of colleague distrust and form fewer coworker friendships than those working in single-occupancy offices.

Wide Angle View Of Busy Design Office With Workers At Desks

Wide Angle View Of Busy Design Office With Workers At Desks

Trust is a key ingredient to team cohesiveness and team productivity.
One way that trust can be earned is through compassion or caring. A lack of compassion can rear its ugly head when people work in the same space and frustrations result, much like they do with families. People become frustrated with noise levels, different tastes in music and décor and a lack of respect for personal belongings and private space.

Trust can also be built through consistency and competency.
If a lot of people share the same space, it becomes difficult to establish consistent relationships with a core group of coworkers. Build up of frustrations can bring out the more negative aspects of one’s character. A typically friendly and open co-worker might appear to switch on a dime and become the ‘evil twin’ when placed in frustrating situations over and over again. Frustrations with all the “small stuff” can also bring co-workers competency weaknesses into the limelight. Weaknesses that can normally be balanced with a co-worker’s strengths and been seen objectively, can be magnified when someone is in a state of frustration.

Yet another study referenced in the New Yorker by Maria Konnikova, when some 38,000 workers were surveyed, they found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity and that the more senior the role the worse they did. All the interruptions that can come from a large open space can drive even the most focused of people insane. Whether it’s simply someone walking by or overhearing conversations from those around you, the distractions are many. There’s not much you can do to change the circumstances, but beg for some privacy.

So, what’s to be done?
In order to improve trust in open spaces it’s important to set clear boundaries and commitments along with associated actions. Every employee needs to be clear on what those boundaries are and commit to the actions to ensure everyone is on board. The commitments also need to clearly define how failure to conform to the commitments will be addressed. In order for a culture of trust to truly begin to foster, teams need to develop their own commitments themselves.

As well, creating private spaces that employees can use when they need focused time is important to maintaining sanity and productivity. This might mean having several designated spaces in the organization that can be used by anyone who needs some privacy or quiet in order to get a job complete or get it done effectively. You can also create a noise-free shared work space that can be used by several employees but requires a quieter environment. Find out what’s needed from your employees in order to adjust the distractions resulting from open spaces, and see happier employees with higher productivity.