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Open to open-concept

Switching from traditional cubicles to shared desks will be a welcome adjustment
One 2018 study found some open-concept workstations can lead to more physical activity and reduced stress compared to cubicles and offices. Shutterstock

Having worked in a cubicle for at least the last 15 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the lay of the land, as have my colleagues.

Each of us has our own little corner to fill with tech and folders and personal items, if we so choose. Each of us is partially obscured from others with two low-level walls forming an L-shape that frames our desks.

There’s a comfort in tucking yourself into the cubicle each day, shielded somewhat from the traffic and chatter of the office, while still being accessible and approachable.

That’s all about to change as we move offices later this summer. And it’ll be a big change — the new place is totally open-concept, with no cubicle walls, shared desks and only monitors dividing one employee from another.

And it’s more than just the desks. Carpeted floors will be replaced with hardwood; drywall will be replaced with open brick; ceiling tiles will give way to ductwork and wooden beams; large, sealed windows looking down on a busy highway will give way to smaller windows that open to busy downtown streets below; and people now working in offices will join the masses on the floor.

Wisely, the new owners have had us try out the new type of environment, hoping to ease the transition to working with the new concept and new co-workers.

And the difference is pretty dramatic. It’s definitely louder, with people’s voices easily carrying, and you’re much more aware of people moving around the office.

But with all that comes an energy that fills the whole room — something that’s lacking in our current workplace.

I’ve quickly gotten to know many of the staff because they’re not hidden in a cubicle, and I’m much more aware of the discussions and collaborations among co-worker. It’s also easier to turn in your chair to query a colleague or laugh at a joke.

Not that it won’t take some adjustment. Our current environment is very quiet, almost like a library, and people generally keep their voices low. It’s hard to hear anyone going by so you’re much more isolated in your work.

Plus there have been studies of late citing potential downsides to this approach. A well-publicized 2018 study from Harvard, for example, said the open concept environment actually lowered interactions and collaboration.

But then another study that year in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found some open-concept workstations can lead to more physical activity and reduced stress compared to cubicles and offices.

I’m looking forward to the change. After years in the same office on the outskirts of the city, with the same grey cubicles and stained carpets, a newly renovated, brightly coloured office in the downtown core holds a lot of appeal.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, HAB Press. All rights reserved.

Sarah Dobson

Sarah Dobson is the editor/supervisor of Canadian HR Reporter. sarah.dobson@habpress.ca
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