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Open-office plans have been bashed by critics, but done right, they can be effective. When my company, Namely, moved into a new space, I knew I didn’t want my own office. That’s right — I’m the CEO, and I don’t have my own office. Instead, I move my desk around every few months so I can sit in a different Namely department.
Related: 9 Rules of Open-Office Etiquette
Why? I get to know all of our people, to truly see what their day-to-day is like. That helps me be a better leader. Although a big office with windows overlooking the city is a dream for many entrepreneurs, leaders don’t need it. And, yes, open office plans have been criticized — particularly recently. But the truth is that breaking down the walls between executives and employees can create a better work environment and more effective leaders. Here’s why:
1. It gives employees a voice.
As businesses begin to grow and add new employees, sometimes employers can no longer hear what everyone is saying. With hundreds of employees, it becomes harder for leaders to know and interact with everyone anymore.
In fact, a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey of 600 U.S. employees found that only 37 percent described themselves as "very satisfied" with the consideration managers gave their ideas; and just 23 percent were "very satisfied" with communication with senior management.
In the early stages of a company, everyone has a voice. But as the company becomes more and more successful, that employee input and connection to company leadership gets lost. Stepping outside the CEO office can help you change that.
When leaders work alongside employees, they can welcome new ideas and insights while building relationships with workers at every level. It creates a work environment that welcomes collaboration, communication and idea-sharing. Without a formal office, there’s less of a traditional workplace hierarchy. Employees have a closer connection to leadership, and executives get a better sense of what their workers think and experience every day.
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It improves communication.
The default communication method for senior leadership is email. Email seems like the fastest and easiest way to send out information to the entire company, so it’s no surprise that 89 percent of companies surveyed by the theEMPLOYEEapp in May 2015 said they communicated by email.
But, on the employee’s end, email isn’t cutting it. In the same survey, 30 percent of employees said they ignored emails from their employers, and 50 percent said they felt out of the loop.
By taking down the walls separating employees from leaders, employers don’t need to rely on email all the time. An open work environment promotes openness in the working culture, as well. Leaders will more likely be transparent with employees and keep everyone up to date on company happenings, if they’re sitting next to them every day.
Employees value transparency, and when walls are removed, the work environment becomes both literally and figuratively more open.
It gives new perspectives on the business.
As companies grow, leaders become further and further removed from the heart of the actual business. They become insulated from the process of selling, marketing and supporting the product. With more employees, CEOs focus less on the routine tasks that make a company run.
Traditional office settings increase this effect, putting actual distance between them and the day-to-day goings of the business.
While leaders can’t be involved in every little thing, they still need to have a good sense of the business' inner workings — and sitting with employees can give them just that. Working alongside employees throws the CEO back into the middle of the business.
After you as CEO spend a few days of sitting with employees, you'll find that your people forget they are working alongside an executive. That’s when employers can gain true insights into their business. Leaders get a better understanding of how the business runs, what works and what needs to change. They see things they can’t from their offices and view the company from a new perspective.
It creates a better work environment.
Leaders strive to create a great work environment for their employees. But if they work from a separate area, can they really know what that environment is like for employees?
Probably not, judging from a November 2015 survey by Globoforce. Surveying more than 800 full-time U.S. employees, the study found that 47 percent of respondents didn't think their company leaders cared about or actively tried to create a human workplace. That's a big deal.
Among those employees who said they felt their leaders didn't care about making the workplace more "human," just 43 percent said they loved their jobs and only 32 percent called themselves highly engaged. In comparison, of the employees who said their leaders did care about instilling a human work environment, 89 percent said they loved their jobs and 51 percent called themselves highly engaged.
So, the message here is, strive for a more human workplace. Working in the same environment as employees can help leaders see the changes that need to be made to help their employees be more productive and happier at work.
Related: How Much Is the Noise in Your Open Office Costing You?
Employers who dispense with private offices can understand what it’s actually like to work for the company day in and day out and what can be done to improve the workplace for everyone.