Are old-school workplace practices more productive?

We’ve all seen the emergence of hip modern workplaces: open floors, hot seats, free meals, and bicycles to get you around the office – at least we see that with Anne Hathaway in The Internship.

But are these new emerging workplace environments increasing productivity? Or should we go back to old-school working habits?

The open-plan office: Evolving open-plan offices that push collaborative and creative flow can have implications for productivity. Some workers find that the constant noise and colleague interactions have made it challenging to concentrate.  Interestingly, a 2016 Oxford Economics Survey found that those between ages of 25-36 were especially distracted by noisy workplaces. Thus, while the open-plan office may seem “hip” and “modern”, it might not be as fun as it sounds.  Another key issue is that these open-plan offices do not cater for individual needs. A large company may hire for a range of roles, where there are individual needs for their working environments. For example, an HR employee may need a quiet working environment for phone interviews.

On the other hand, many individuals may be working on the same project or client and therefore require constant communication. Open plan works for our team at Agent99 as we collaborate throughout the day as we bounce ideas off each other, share contacts and hold regular brainstorms. This encourages idea sharing and quick problem solving.

Hot seats: The emergence of hot-desking aims to encourage socialisation and collaboration, as staff members are no longer provided with a permanent desk. Hot seats enable businesses to save space because not all employees utilise their office every day, as well as equalising office hierarchy by creating a flat landscape.  However, hot-desking creates a public space that may compromise people’s privacy as well as push the noisy colleagues to parts of the office, increasing distraction for those who require quiet spaces. We haven’t quite reached this level of “hip” and “modern” at Agent99, but never say never!

Free meals: Everyone knows that the way to overall satisfaction is free food, of course! Offering breakfast or lunch options to employees is becoming increasingly popular. For example, Finder.com.au offers catered breakfasts and lunches for their 54 fulltime workers, with a different menu offered every day. But, this can encourage workers to work longer hours as some employees feel that they are then inclined to give something in return to the company.  Essentially working longer hours will decrease productivity in the long run as employees become over-tired and burnt out.

At Agent99, we thoroughly enjoy our food and we seem to have found a ‘good balance’. This includes, but not limited to, a snacks budget that the team manages at their leisure, celebrating special occasions with yummy cakes or flowers or even going out for a team lunch to mix it up. This approach makes every day a little bit exciting and allows the team to feel like they have more autonomy over what they want to snack on.

The future of offices: As we can see, offices are transforming into a hybrid, physical/digital space. In the future, we are likely to see office workspaces to be reshaped. Individual companies will merge together to form a mixed campus. We are likely to see sleeping-pods, 24/7 working places, complimentary laundry and small fully stocked cafeterias.

So the real question remains, should businesses go back to old-school working practices? Is it more productive to go back to the 9-5 working day and traditional work attire? Some thrive in the modern workplace leading to overall satisfaction and greater productivity, while others find it increasingly distracting and exhausting. Ultimately, companies need to understand the workplace needs of their employees and adapt accordingly.

Intern Agent Georgina