9 August 2019
Justin Penafiel, Senior Associate
“Open plan” and “hot desking” have been the buzzwords of workspace design for years, but regular opinion polls suggest that they are indeed the preferred office environments for Millennials and members of Generation Z. But if, in the words of Carole King, nobody [literally] stays in one place anymore, what does this mean for workforce management strategies?
For several years, offices have been transforming their spaces into open-plan environments. Other companies have even done away with fixed offices altogether, requiring employees to move between shared desks and quiet spaces as required by the immediate task at hand – if there is even a need to be in the office to begin with.
The push for open-plan offices has been partly tempered, borne out of the desire for increased collaboration between colleagues. However, in recent years, debate has ensued about how much open place offices contribute to collaboration and, ultimately, productivity. The open-plan office has subsequently seen some pushback. Research in 2017 by Regus, a company that specialises in providing serviced offices, suggested that 76% of workers in Australia considered enclosed workstations as optimal for concentration (and not the open plan). A similar proportion of respondents in the same study indicated a preference for enclosed workstations for productivity, and the protection of workers’ privacy.
In 2019, the debate on open-plan offices has been tempered, suggesting that they are not inherently bad, but just being “used wrong”. However, the general debate on the optimal office design appears to have transformed into discussions about how fluid office environments (namely “hot desking”) can cater towards the demand for flexibility, particularly for Millennials and Generation Z, who increasingly comprise the majority of workers and demand the flexibility to work both inside and outside of the office. Deloitte has conducted its Millennial Survey since 2012, and its latest 2019 report flags the increasing demand not to just work from home, but for work conditions that mimic the so-called “gig economy”. Matters of work conditions extend beyond mere office design, but considerations of balancing managerial control with ever-increasing flexibility.
Whether in an open-plan office, or in a company that practices hot desking, the physical transformation of the physical work environment has a bearing on how managers can influence or exert any necessary control over their workforces in an age where flexibility is all the rage. As managerial control is increasingly exerted through electronic or virtual means, it may seem less overt, reduced, and maybe even unnecessary. However, managerial obligations and responsibilities for employees have not necessarily changed nor been reduced in the same way that fixed office spaces and face-to-face contact have been reduced.
Legal advice and strategic guidance about your obligations and strategies is therefore necessary, even when the focus might be on the choice of new furniture, or the latest technology to gather colleagues electronically at the same time in the same virtual setting. For example, People + Culture Strategies is available to advise on both flexible work arrangements, and even assist with assessing home-office environments when employees request to work from home. As decisions about open-plan offices and hot desking may ultimately result in a grant of increased flexibility, People + Culture Strategies encourages employers to take a step back and consider its strategies for managing a more fluid and dispersed workforce.