Know your neighbour

LOSS of privacy is no longer the issue it may have been in the workplaces of a decade ago. In these times of open-plan office design and ergonomic furniture, the lack of segregation is an accepted part of working life.

The need to get more people into less space to reduce costs has fuelled the open-plan workstation phenomenon. 

Workstations can now carry all the necessary services (data, power and phones) with few or no divider screens separating staff.

The latest model is the free-standing system, which is best described as furniture that can have screens attached. It can be moved around the office with ease and is usually centred around a power tower, or central mast.

The mantra of the open plan designers is ‘fostering greater communication and knowledge sharing by providing flexibility’, all in a smaller space than the traditional office.

Today’s chief executives and general managers can be found working alongside their staff in office spaces that have little or no barriers.

Innerspace director and general manager Andrew Norris said workstations had evolved from a panel-based system to a tile-based one, and now into a free-standing system that had taken away nearly all barriers.

Mr Norris said staff had been taken out of fully enclosed offices and put at workstations with 1.8-metre screens. These screens were gradually reduced to 1.1m-1.2m, and now the separators were being done away with altogether.

“A lot of management are not the same as their predecessors who had the big offices and big desks; We have CEOs who work alongside staff,” Mr Norris said.

Blake Thornton Smith director Kim Thornton Smith said one of the key things in business was an ability to respond quickly to all business issues. A highly communicative environment was part of the open space workstation phenomenon, he said.  

“We are moving to lighter more simply engineered workstations and are looking at lighter, more mobile and flexible workstations that can handle various cable reticulations,” Mr Thornton Smith said.

He said the loss of privacy in the open-plan model was being addressed through the use of quiet rooms and meeting rooms.

“There is more emphasis being placed on acoustics in workstations and in the general working environment,” Mr Thornton Smith said.

Anitma Design Group director Anita Ligovich said another benefit of open plan design was the greater permeation of natural light into a building, which has been proven to be beneficial to staff.

“However, open-plan workstations have been around for 10 years and maybe there will be a move towards more privacy,” she said.

“It depends on the industry but you will find where there needs to be good team-based relationships and knowledge sharing it is a good system.

“For lawyers it would be terrible.”

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