Mariella Gradler

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Future Work - Working together in an open-plan office

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The culture of physical presence, the feeling of “my office,” and only being able to reach and talk to managers through a receptionist are a thing of the past with Future Work. One aspect of the Future Work concept is what are known as “open-plan” offices.

What is an open-plan office?

My first view when I walk into our open-plan office in the morning.

My first view when I walk into our open-plan office in the morning.

There are different types of office: individual offices, multi-person offices (2-4 people), and open-plan offices.
The latter type of office is usually arranged using a space-structuring system. This means that desks are separated by partial screens or wall cabinets. Our open-plan office is made up of around 40 desks, a large meeting room, two smaller meeting rooms, and a kitchen with everything you need to enjoy a short break. A coffee machine, a microwave, a refrigerator, a kettle, a dishwasher, …

Why an open-plan office?

You may be asking yourself: Why are more and more companies opting for the concept of open-plan offices? Well, because there are numerous benefits. The cost of having an open-plan office is lower for companies than having individual offices, but that is not the most important factor.

Open-plan offices are advantageous for departments with a lot of employees as communication is considerably easier and faster with such a spatial arrangement.

It is easier to get to know one another because you meet when getting a coffee from the kitchen or warming up your lunch, you sit right next to your colleagues, and you don’t have to go very far to consult your colleagues on something. For me as a dual study program student , it is particularly great being able to make contacts. I can sit right next to my business expert and don’t have to keep going into another office with questions. Onboarding and learning are made easier by Future Work. Being in the same office is also beneficial when it comes to teamwork as people can go straight over to their colleague’s desk to discuss something quickly, and can easily see whether that person is in or not. Because Telekom expressly supports mobile working as a way to facilitate a balance between work and private life, there is a trend toward fewer employees working in the office on a regular basis. That is another aspect that favors a flexible office system.

My experiences of the open-plan office

I am doing my practical unit on the HR Marketing team at Deutsche Telekom. Myself and my recruitment and diagnostics colleagues have been working in an open-plan office since the end of November.

The majority of them used to work in small multi-person offices, so everyone had to adapt to this new arrangement. Together we all thought about what we would need to remember when working in an open-plan office.

How we plan to work together in the open-plan office.

We came up with 5 guiding principles:

  1. To reduce noise, use the mute function wherever possible
  2. If you are ill, stay at home
  3. Keep your desk clean and tidy
  4. No proper meals at your desk
  5. Talk about problems, not about people, and don’t take feedback personally.

Because we can be spending eight or more hours a day working together in the office, the rules are important in creating a pleasant working environment.

Choice of desk is also a feature specific to an open-plan office. There are various concepts. Our system is that everyone has a free choice of desk. Everyone can sit in a different seat each day; no one can claim a seat for an extended period. “First come, first served.” That made getting started easy for me, as I could simply sit at the desk next to my business expert. The free choice of desk allows me to always sit beside the colleagues that I am currently working with most intensively. This may change from time to time, of course.

Die Gemeinschaftsküche mit Kaffeemaschine, Kühlschrank und allem was das Herz begehrt.

The communal kitchen with coffee machine, fridge and everything your heart desires.

Proper ergonomics are also important, especially when you don’t have a fixed (assigned) work station. Our desks are height-adjustable so that everyone can decide what height they would like their desk set at. We can also work while standing, which makes a nice change from sitting for long periods.  

To start off, many might think: “Oh no, an open-plan office – that will be loud and stressful!” Is that true?

It doesn’t have to be!

A lot of telephone calls are made and taken in our office. But everyone is respectful and makes the effort to talk quietly. If we have team meetings or longer discussions planned, we go into the meeting rooms. Background noise can increase when the office is at full capacity, but in these cases we remember that everyone has to speak more quietly.

We have a colleague that goes around the office and gives everyone a high five every morning. I had to smile when I came across him on my first day. But it allowed us to introduce ourselves directly, and now I always enjoy greeting him.