A recently completed survey of more than 200 organizations across various industry sectors, which was conducted by the Ethisphere Institute and Jones Lang LaSalle, reveals that open workplace strategies are increasingly gaining favor among corporations. According to the Survey on the Influence of Workplace Design & Practices on the Ethical Environment, companies employing open office layouts and work-from-home strategies are achieving increases in space utilization, employee engagement, and employee retention, while also experiencing less employee misconduct. Such strategies appear to boost employee morale and productivity, while reducing the costs and environmental impacts associated with an oversized real estate footprint.
"In today's rapidly changing business climate with its diverse work force, constantly evolving technological innovations, and intense competition, corporations need to think strategically about the type of environment that best supports its employees and allows them to do their best work in a way that maintains the integrity and ethical culture of the organization," said Alex Brigham, executive director at Ethisphere Institute.
The corporate executives who responded come from a diverse pool of organizations with regard to industry, work force size, and annual revenues. Though most were Americas-based (90 percent), some were headquartered in other regions, including APAC (2 percent) and EMEA (8 percent). Among the survey's key findings are the following:
- 60 percent of those surveyed maintain a workspace comprised mainly of open offices, rather than a closed office environment. Of these, 79 percent provide open office space for nearly four out of every five of their employees.
- 81 percent of those surveyed believe open office plans, which cause staff to be more visible to one another, generally promote improved ethical behavior when compared to having individual offices. A reduction in offensive language, increased politeness, a more open exchange of information, and enhanced transparency were all cited as benefits of open workspaces.
- 64 percent of those surveyed have not had any visible ethical violations within the past two years. Most cite that the "see and be seen" quality of open plans increases the likelihood that policies and procedures are followed.
- 68 percent of responding companies allow their employees to work from home on a regular basis. Of those, 89 percent reported having no ethics violations during the past two years among their work-from-home employees.
"The move towards a more collaborative office design featuring open workspaces, team rooms, and common areas has gained even more traction within the last few years as companies look to reduce costs through increased space utilization without compromising productivity," said Patricia Roberts, executive vice president of Strategic Consulting at Jones Lang LaSalle. "In fact, the survey found that more than one-third of companies transitioned from closed offices to open plans just within the last five years."
"We live in an open office environment in order to maintain open communications and shared learning among our staff," said one respondent representing a professional services firm. "Culturally, our company would die as a business if we had a closed office environment."
Interestingly, the survey revealed that the larger the organization, the more likely it is to allow employees to work from home on a regular basis: 92 percent of companies with more than 50,000 employees have remote work options versus 59 percent of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees.
In order to implement a successful open work environment, respondents confirmed that it is essential to tread carefully. One executive surveyed mentioned that creating such a layout without first fostering a corporate culture based on transparency and trust may give the impression that management is keeping an eye on the activities of its work force. A company needs to conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine the best open workplace strategy for its long-term growth and create a robust internal campaign to gain leadership and employee buy-in.
The move towards a more collaborative office design featuring open workspaces, team rooms and common areas has gained more corporate traction. Patricia Roberts explains the correlation between open office environments and company ethics proved in a recent survey that shows 64 percent of companies that utilize open workspaces have avoided any visible ethics violations within the past two years.
While corporations are moving to open office environments for consolidation and sustainability purposes, this move also promotes ethical behavior according to 80 percent of respondents who participated in an independent study by Jones Lang LaSalle and the Ethisphere Institute. Mark Ohringer describes how true bottom line benefit comes from creating an ethical culture that begins with the actions of senior management.