Open office – closed culture?

Open office – closed culture?

Open plan – closed culture? 

Open plan – closed culture? 

by Chris Harrison 24/01/2019

Does having an open plan office help in creating a happy workplace?

The BBC recently highlighted research revealing that employees in open plan offices spend 73% less time in face to face interactions. Whilst email use increased by over 67%.

That’s no surprise to me. Three decades ago, when I joined the company that later became Diageo, I sat in a large, modern open plan. This state-of-the-art space was occupied by five different departments. Everyone had a desk and cupboard that gave them visual privacy. But the whole office was very quiet. So, while I could concentrate on written work, I found myself very inhibited when it came to making telephone calls. I felt that everyone was listening to every word.

In both previous and subsequent workplaces, I was much happier working in smaller team rooms without partitions. My calls were still overheard, but the teams were homogenous. So, there was togetherness. ‘Banter’ kept us all amused while we worked. Better still, when an outsider came into our space, he made sure he came with purpose. We didn’t welcome idle passers-by.

Fast forward to the present and most of my working week is spent in client company offices. (You cannot hope to change a culture unless you can see, hear and feel it.) Most of them are open plan: a fashion prompted by the legitimate desire to increase interaction and collaboration among workers. Senior managers tend to retain closed offices, generally justified by the need to conduct confidential meetings.

We have been delighted to embrace open plan. The bosses don’t suffer, the place looks aspirational to visitors, and there’s a feeling that dark deeds cannot be committed in plain sight – a perfect illusion of creating a happy workplace. A fallacy, by the way.

In fairness, we really did have to get away from all that ghastly dark wooden panelling and heavy plush furniture that Governments love. For decades even private sector bosses were only truly happy when sitting in a huge swivel chair behind an expansive desk, flanked by the ultimate status icon: the varnished coat stand.

While international research has shown that the time employees spend on “collaborative activities’’ has “ballooned by 50 percent or more” in the past two decades, I’m not sure it’s working so well here. We face two significant challenges.

Firstly, open workspaces are very threatening if your company culture isn’t ‘safe’. If your management style is aggressive, your employees sit in a constant state of alertness. Like lizards on rocks, waiting for impending predators. Secondly, in a space with no privacy, everything becomes everyone’s business. From marital strife to performance failure; having everything on view is distracting and fuels office politics.

So, open plan can, in fact, produced a closed down culture.

What office plan helps in creating a happy workplace? Share your opinion with us!



Chris is the Africa Partner of The Brand Inside (, a consultancy which works inside major organisations to align staff behaviour to deliver the brand promise. For nearly a decade, Chris has written weekly columns on branding and culture in Africa’s national newspapers. His observations may be found on His first business book, entitled Marketing Medicine, will be published early in 2019.

Chris Harrison

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6 things from sports that you should be applying to work

6 things from sports that you should be applying to work

6 Things from sports that you should be applying to work

6 Things from sports that you should be applying to work

by Talentese Team 20/01/2019

Games have always been an indispensable part of our childhood. Whether in school as extracurricular activities or with friends, we all have played some form of sports. Most people believe that to succeed in the workplace, you only need to be smart and know how to do your work. While this is somewhat true, it is not the entire truth. Success in the workplace or office is hugely dependent upon education, experience, willingness to learn, adaptability, and the ability to network.

Sports, however, play an equally crucial role in preparing you to succeed in the workplace. Most of us have worked hard to achieve our goals at sports or hobbies. Hobbies can range from games to playing a musical instrument. No matter which sport or extracurricular activity you choose, there is some measure of hard work that goes into it. Sports are no different. Most hobby sportspersons and athletes will have grueling and shocking tales to narrate about hard work, failure, winning, leadership, competitiveness, and team spirit. Career guidance counselors have observed that most sportspersons make excellent employees. We have always wondered why this is the case. Several things can be learned through sports. These basic examples and teachings can then be applied to succeed in the workplace daily.

Let us look at six things from sports that you should be applying to work to succeed and climb your career ladder faster.

1. Team Spirit:

Team spirit is the most important aspect of sports training. When sports are played in teams, sportspersons and athletes learn to trust, rely, and depend on teammates and team members to achieve a winning result. While the end goal is not necessary, it is the learning that team spirit imparts that is more important. When you visit a career guidance counselor and seek career counseling, the importance of team spirit and teamwork will be stressed. Cheering your teammates, helping them with challenging work, giving advice, and acknowledging individual success is as important as winning the end goal or bottom line.

2. Leadership:

Sports teach us the importance of listening to a team captain. The same is the case with bosses in the workplace. The boss at the workplace is a team captain, and the game is like completing the projects on time, efficiently, and without loss of quality. As a leader, you understand and work with the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates to ensure that you can make the best contribution to the project or task.

Understanding these aspects not only helps in building trust, goodwill, and reputation but also helps with your employee branding. Leaders are extremely sought after and are known to make adjustments to teams so that each teammate contributes their best to the task given.

3. Fierce competition:

Sportspersons and athletes have an inherent understanding of what sport is really about. Business is just like being in a sport or race. Only winners succeed with the best strategies, ideas, perseverance, hard work, and consistent execution of tasks. Any good career guidance counselor will stress the importance of fighting till the end.

For leaders and sportspersons, failure is not an option, only reaching the goal is. They can understand failures and adapt according to the need of the day to ensure that business goals are met the next time successfully. For leaders, failure is not debilitating. Instead, it is a learning curve to help improve themselves and their team members. Insight like this only comes through understanding competition and how to enhance personal strengths. Career counseling suggests that competition should be healthy and great managers find win-win situations for everyone involved.

4. Great sportsmanship:

Managers and leaders, like athletes and sportspersons, respect work given and understand the importance of hard work. Efficiency, quality, timely delivery, and quality are as important as achieving the task or goal. Leaders understand that in business, there is always competition and people playing or pitching against you and your team are as skilled at their work as you are.

Great sportsmanship in business means having a healthy respect for competitors. Managers are unbiased towards the strengths of their competitors and groom their teams accordingly. Challenges are accepted and treated like milestones to cross in business. This not only helps in furthering business and opportunities but also improving company reputation and employee branding.

5. Practice:

Athletes do not believe in luck. Similarly, in business, teams, and managers should not believe in luck either. Practice in tasks, constant hard work, and occasional failure is treated like learning curves that help in strengthening employee branding and quality of work. Managers endlessly push for consistency in action. The similarity between sports and business is that of a coach and a manager respectively. Managers drive for improvement, hard work, results, consistency, and a positive attitude.

People involved in customer service roles will appreciate the beauty of consistency and patience. Tasks, like answering phone calls, calming irate customers, and completing data entry operations, are successful only with constant practice. While these may not be fun, they are necessary to get better at your work.

6. Focus and concentration:

Constant exercise and practice help in improving focus and concentration at tasks. Sports like tennis, football, athletics, gymnastics, hockey, and so on help immensely in increasing controlled movement and focus. Things like distractions, wandering of the mind and forgetting tasks decrease over time.

Tasks are better performed through multitasking, manipulating information, thinking analytically, making better strategies, coordination, and teamwork. The same principles can also be applied to business and daily operational tasks. Focus and concentration are improved over time to get better at work.

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