We discuss how smart open plan office design can actually give you more privacy and concentration spaces than ever before.

Adrian Norman

Head of Design

03rd Apr 2019

The second blog in our Office design myth busting series looks at how you can support concentration in the open plan environment.

Collaboration, that’s what bosses want; they want employees getting their heads together to problem-solve and innovate. When we talk designing for collaboration, we’re talking about creating spaces for people to work cohesively. In most scenarios, given the squeeze on space in sought-after locations, this is partly achieved with an open plan office layout - a sort of forced cohesion. This is when things usually turn sour.

Open plan offices aren’t always conducive to concentrating, especially given the average person is distracted or interrupted every 11 minutes. On a good day hopefully you won’t be derailed for too long; on an average day, it can take more than 20 minutes to refocus! So how do you support concentration in the open plan?


Coffee, computer, earphones. You’re all ready to go! Sound familiar? Our recent survey of 2,000 working Brits found that 25% use headphones to concentrate at work. Headphones are a great tool for blocking out noise and sometimes your favourite tracks can help you get in the mood, but they shouldn’t be the go-to concentration crutch.

Offices bring people together for a reason - to spur on good ideas, create a sense of belonging and encourage productivity. But if you have a large poorly-configured echoing space, you’ll soon have problems. Without appropriate acoustic design, your employees will soon tell you they can’t work in an open plan office.

Supporting concentration simply means absorbing sound effectively. The worst office offenders are those layouts which simply allow noise to reverberate around the space. It builds and builds until you really can’t hear yourself think. This is why we incorporated hanging acoustic panels throughout the new Housing Solutions office; they’re functional and a great design feature too.

Perforated ceilings, soft furnishings and furniture, partitions, carpets and even plants or living walls can also help absorb sound. They’ll make your office design a lot more interesting, personal and varied, which is helpful for warding off boredom too.

Creating a space for everyone

Even if your office design and fit out is super effective at absorbing sound, there’ll still be times when employees need complete silence. Or sometimes, a place to be a little noisy away from the open plan. These areas could be small meeting rooms, furniture pods, booths, telephone nooks, or an entire zone where no noise is welcome - much like the quiet carriage on a train.

The open plan environment is for everyone and should be treated as such; a middle ground where people can work comfortably with the odd bit of manageable noise. For special cases, outside of this way of working, your office should accommodate alternative working areas.

Our office design and fit out for Suez met this requirement perfectly. We increased the number of small meeting areas to allow employees to collaborate or concentrate away from the open plan, choosing a space suited to the task at hand. Since moving into their new office, 76% of SUEZ employees can now find somewhere to concentrate (up from 33%) and 79% feel they can easily find somewhere to work away from their desk when needed.

Preventing presenteeism

If you can’t concentrate, why stay in the office at all? We sit at our desks for too long anyway! Although studies show it doesn’t aid productivity, presenteeism is a big issue in the British workplace. Being in the office doesn’t mean you’re working any harder than your colleague who’s working elsewhere. You could be watching cat videos at your desk for nine hours instead of writing that dreaded report!

Your employees should feel at ease popping out of the office to work off-site if that’s what they need, whether at home, a local café or coworking space. Trusting staff to meet their deadlines, no matter where they are, is an important first step in rejecting presenteeism. Flexible working shouldn’t only be on offer to parents or carers; it should be an option for everyone.

Don’t be afraid of losing your employees either. They’ll probably enjoy their time in the office more knowing it’s a choice to be there. It’s best to enable employees to be productive anywhere. The results will speak for themselves.