The skill to work in an open-plan office

open-plan office
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Our office spaces have changed dramatically over the past few decades. They have gone from more formal looking separate offices – with an actual door you can close – to places that resemble our favorite restaurant. Or sometimes even the local kiddie playground. But how do we focus and get the work done an open-plan office? And why do we neglect to check this skill in job interviews?

The idea behind these modern office spaces is that we will mingle more with our colleagues. People in an open-plan office will be more inspired what in turn will boost their creativity. And in the meantime they will have some fun! Oh, and: bring your dog. No problem!

Cut costs

Companies use flexible workplaces and open-plan offices to cut costs. Why have 100 separate desks when only 70% is occupied each day? Just install 70 desks for 100 employees and see what happens on the busy days. When the desks run out just let them sit in the cafetaria or lounge area. They will probably find their colleagues somewhere during the day. And get some work done. Or not.

Meant to house nurses in training

The past two decades I have worked in many different office buildings myself. Twelve to be exact. Some had separate office units and some were open-plan offices. I worked from huge office buildings in the center of a large city to depressing office buildings in industrial areas. I even worked in a very old apartment building that was originally meant to house nurses in training! All buildings had their unique challenges.

War fought over the restrooms

I remember vividly we moved from that ‘nurses in training’ building – which had many small units – to a full blown modern open-plan office. I watched people suffer. The distance between the managers – who were ‘allowed’ to sit in smaller offices (with a door) – became even bigger than it was before. I also remember a ‘war’ that was fought over the restrooms. What restroom was for the men and what for the women?

Check the skill to focus

In case you are wondering: I am not a big fan of the open-plan office myself. But we can complain all we want: for many people this is the new reality.

Despite all these changes, in our job interviews we neglect to check a very important skill. We neglect to check the skill of the person being interviewed to be able to focus in these modern work environments. To concentrate for a longer period of time and actually get the work done in that open-plan office. Good quality work done in a reasonable amount of time.

For the person being interviewed for the job it is just as important to check what he or she thinks of the work environment. Is it an environment that feels right and will help you get the work done? Or will you have trouble focusing?

Neglecting to check this will lead to many problems. For both employer and employee.

Orientation day

So, how can we check this in a job interview? Simple: bring up the topic of flexible workplaces and open-plan offices. Talk about the skill of focussing in a busy environment and let the person give examples – from his or her experience – using this skill. When the interview is over you can  give the person being interviewed a small tour of the office.

When the application process continues: organize an orientation day. Let the person work in the open-plan office for a day and see how he or she handles it.

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