WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

STEPHEN BUBB, stephen.bubb@haynet.com, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

I have to reorganise the office. There is now a big debate about open plan or individual offices. What would you suggest?

This reminds me of an organisation I use to work for. The general secretary went off on a trip to America where he discovered the so-called virtues of "open plan". He arrived back and had all the walls knocked out. It was a disaster. It lasted two years before separate offices made a reappearance.

The reality is that the way an office is set up, the physical environment and general conditions that people work in do make a difference to productivity and general well-being. The physical environment is an important determinant of organisational climate.

When you go to the more old-fashioned local authority where most people are in their own separate offices, you get an impression of a disconnected bureaucracy. At the opposite end you see a city office with everyone in vast open plan areas and you wonder if anyone ever gets time for private thinking or confidential discussions.

And why, when you go into an open plan office, do you find people have built themselves barriers with filing cabinets, potted plants and other such impedimenta. We each need our own personal space and time to think or for confidential discussions. So I don't think it is a question of either or. If you are going to have largely open plan offices then you do need to provide thinking spaces. And just because an individual has their own office, it does not mean to say that they need to keep the door closed. The door should be shut for a private meeting but the rest of the time keep it open and encourage people to come in.

What is important is to have a very thorough discussion with all of the staff about ideas for the reordering of space. You must also get buy-in.

In Japan, there is a concept of "ringi sho

defined as "request for managerial decision". Every single member of a team has to physically sign up to a plan. This would not be a bad idea here.

The other issue you undoubtedly have to tackle is whether you want different departments or divisions separate or together. You may not want to have the "Finance Floor

or the "Membership Floor". It is difficult to lead an organisation where the staff think and act within departmental boundaries and don't take an organisational viewpoint. You may want to look at how you mix and match. Perhaps putting the accountant in with communications will enliven both parties?

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