smb-tech-trendsCubicles are giving way to open spaces among small business owners. In a study* of small business owners we conducted last year on hiring, retention and work environments, 26 percent of the nearly 600 respondents indicated collaborative open spaces best described their physical work environment. Another 33 percent have hybrid environments that most likely include open space.  By comparison, cubicles were cited by only 14 percent of small business owners.

While there is still a fair amount of private and shared offices at 24 percent, small business owners, along with many large companies, realize that collaboration and creativity thrive in open environments. Open-space workplaces, such as our Smarter Working environment at Plantronics, also accommodate flexible working. By providing a core group of unassigned desks, employees can enjoy the flexibility of working at home using mobile and cloud based technologies and come into the office when necessary.

Create a collaborative open space

Here are some tips for creating a collaborative open space:

Update your floor plan:  Say goodbye to the traditional office floor plan with rows of cubicles in the center and meeting rooms lined up along the outer edges. In new open space environments, employees meet in the middle at their desks or at discussion or brainstorm areas surrounded by group or private meeting rooms.

Cut down on desk units: Evaluate individual desks or private office needs based on how many people come into the office on a daily basis as well as many people work in projects. The latter require a larger group workspace.

collaborationFacilitate casual meeting opportunities: In a collaborative work environment, ideas should flow freely. A casual conversation over a cup of coffee could spark a new product idea for your company. Throughout your space, include a few areas with comfortable chairs for impromptu conversations.   This also can introduce some fun into the work scene.

Consider configurable: Needs change. Purchase desks and shelving units you can configure to support changing work and collaboration needs.

Let in light:  Studies indicated that natural light aids productivity. Closed in spaces block natural light. Keep yours open to natural light; enclose meetings room with glass.

Keep down noise: Noise can be a problem in an open environment. A good noise etiquette policy is in order. Headsets also can help employees cancel out background noise by listening to their own preferred sounds — white noise or music – as long as it’s not too distracting.  (When you are trying to concentrate, it’s best to listen to soft sounding music or very calming sounds. It’s not hard to get into your favorite tunes and burst into song in the middle of the office if you’re not careful.)

The key to a successful collaborative environment is to keep communication with your employees open to find out what’s working and ensure flexibility. In the ideal open space environment employees should be able to move between a collaborative setting for creativity, a quiet space to focus, or a combination of the two, depending on need.

*Research commissioned by Plantronics with the Executive Council of Small Business (ECSB), part of Corporate Executive Board in July 2012.