Open plan needs good planning

October 5, 2007

Having been both an open-plan office inhabitant and a location-independent, flexibly working "road warrior", I can report that in the corporate world both types of environment can and do work - for appropriate roles and when carefully managed to avoid the now well-known pitfalls ("Say goodbye to the office", September 28).

Yet nothing prepared me for the open-plan offices I have encountered in universities: as many desks as possible arranged in a large room, with apparently no thought given to team dynamics, noise management, privacy, heating and ventilation, storage space, meeting space or even cleaning.

The result? Continual inefficiency and frustration, people asking to move out or work from home and epidemics of coughs and colds sweeping across the office.

I would like to think that, rather than blindly pursuing apparent cost savings, universities will approach this question in the proper academic way.

Decide what you are trying to achieve, consult the established experts, research the extensive literature and learn the lessons of the early adopters. Don't just follow what companies did 20 or 30 years ago: look at current best practice and learn from it.

Sue O'Hare
Head of technology transfer
Reading University

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