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Open-office designers also recognize value of privacy

PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN Easton City Hall uses a combination of the open work environment and private offices.

The utopian office open-floor plan continues to evolve as the privacy and work needs of employees don’t always mesh with a hub environment.

The popular workplace trend in recent years is a balancing act between collaboration and flexible employee access while keeping confidential information private, providing employees with enclosed spaces for focused work time, private meetings or phone calls, as well as for small group meetings.

“We do still see companies that like executives in private offices,” said Christa Kraftician, director of Spillman Farmer Architects in Bethlehem. “We have not had a client [so far] that went for a totally open work space.”

She said concessions in totally open space floor plans have created a hybrid where greater flexibility and access don’t come at the expense of having private “huddle” areas.

She explained a lot of tenant fit-out spaces include a mix of open and private spaces.

“The environment is key,” Kraftician said.

The new norm is to plan private offices into a move or redesign or to retro-fit a large open floor.

Semi-private and private areas can be used for sensitive phone calls about child or health care needs and for human resources conversations, or when work requires undivided attention.

Many business owners assume they’ll save money by going to an open floor plan, which often isn’t the case.

“You still need breakout areas and privacy stations,” Kraftician said. “You still have the same amount of floor space.”

PRIVACY STILL CRITICAL

When Easton moved its government offices about two years ago, two departments were not on the list for an open floor plan. Police – who soon are moving to a renovated building – and human resources both need enclosed offices for a single imperative reason: privacy.

Anyone dealing with confidential and sensitive material has office space, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said.

Panto said for the most part, an open work environment has been positive and productivity has increased.

But early in the transition, Panto acknowledged noisy voices were the new office center’s biggest challenge.

“People [using] the phone had to learn how to use their ‘inside voices,’ ” he said.

SHIFT IN CULTURE

From moving to a new office to creating a new vision for the company’s culture, work spaces can address a lot of needs, but change is often fraught with hurdles such as real and imagined expectations.

Chris Weiler’s goal in creating the office redesign for his firm, Weiler Abrasives Group of Barrett Township, was to bring together people from different departments.

Weiler, the Monroe County firm’s CEO, said he wanted to create more accessibility, foster a more creative environment, increase communication and attract and retain talent.

Creating seismic changes in office culture or shifting from a “heads-down” desk environment to erasing walls and lines was a big job.

ANGST TO ACCOMPLISHMENT

Weiler said moving to an open work environment was “anathema to everything the company knew, and even the idea of it created an incredible amount of anxiety.”

Concerns ranged from distractions causing an inability to concentrate to handling confidential material to lack of privacy, he said.

“If you make it too nice, it will be harder to negotiate with suppliers and customers,” was another concern Weiler said he heard from employees.

He said most concerns were unfounded.

“Overall, I was amazed at how quickly people not only adapted to their new work environment, but how well it accomplished our strategic goals for our culture,” Weiler said.

CO-WORKING SPACE

Betsy Kohl, Main Street Manager for the Hamilton District Main Street Program in Allentown, said co-working spaces – another workplace hybrid model, takes the open floor-plan arrangement to a different level because more than one business is sharing the space.

Kohl said occasionally privacy and noise can be issues, but rarely are long-term problems.

Co-working arrangements are where more than one company rents office space, while sharing such amenities as printers and technology, Wi-Fi, kitchens, conference rooms, copiers and office furnishings and equipment.

SHARING AND SAVING

Kohl said Velocity, a co-working space in downtown Allentown where businesses lease office space, included walls at door height.

While noise and privacy can be an occasional issue, it hasn’t been a deal breaker for any of the current tenants.

Kohl said people enjoy the “water color experience” and efficiency of sharing amenities.

“The shared space is making them more successful and saving them money,” she said.

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