ADVO Group interviews Amy Catlow, Expert Market


Expert Market (visit website) is a resource for learning more about setting up a business and purchasing products and services. Recently commissioned research by the company showed that the open plan office design, that is so prevalent in today’s workplace, may in fact not be the preferred choice for employees. Amy Catlow, Director at Expert Market, provides an insight into the research.

Tell us some more about the research

The new survey commissioned by Expert Market, the UK’s leading resource for office equipment, revealed employees are not fans of the open-plan office set up.

A surprising 54% of respondents favoured working in separate office space in spite of the trend for open plan offices. In the quest to boost team morale through a relaxed and less formal environment, companies may have achieved quite the opposite.

Peace and quiet came out top on the list of things which could improve employees’ working day the most with over 37% of respondents preferring a quiet office over regular breaks and even cake! Employees reported that the open plan design of many offices encouraged a negative sense of competition between staff and a hostile working environment that pitted colleagues against each other

Were you initially surprised by the findings that the majority of respondents favoured working in separate office spaces?

I think it is surprising. In the past few years we have heard so much about the benefits of open plan working, hot-desking and communal spaces and I think the assumption was that this was working for everyone. What has come out of this research is that because everyone works in a different way – some preferring silence, some needing to bounce ideas off people, this style of working does not necessarily suit everyone.

The research found that peace and quiet was the number one factor that respondents felt would improve their working day. What were some of the other desired workplace improvements that respondents reported?

Rather unsurprisingly, respondents ranked the computer as the piece of equipment which had the most impact on morale at work, with a faulty machine proving to be very frustrating. I think we can all sympathise with this answer, as the computer is for most people essential to getting work done.

Also, 65% said having no natural light negatively impacted their mood. This is something that companies might be able to rectify easily – moving desks to more open spaces, removing blinds or giving employees more opportunities to get outside during their working day, so some of the feedback could lead to improvements being made very quickly.

Do you think some of the negativity employees feel about open plan offices, such as increased competitiveness, could potentially be influenced by temporary factors such as the economic recession and the consequential job uncertainty many feel?

I think the saturated work market undoubtedly will make for more competitive working environments, and much of the feedback we received mentioned workers feeling under pressure to outperform the employee next to them. Though many employers feel they get more from their staff from encouraging competitiveness, it can make for a difficult and hostile working environment.

Open plan offices were initially designed to nurture creativity and encourage collaborative working, but it seems in some situations it is being used to create a nasty dynamic which pitches employees against one another.

Do you think the open plan office design will naturally give way to other layout trends or do you think it will prove to be difficult to change?

With office space at a premium, it seems unlikely that we will ever return to the days of individual offices. What I think we will see is more clever working solutions. Working pods, chairs or desks which divide up spaces or can be moved around to create break out areas are going to be the future of office design, giving the option of privacy when needed, but still making the most of the open plan layout.

How would you recommend employers discover the appropriate office layout for their particular business and staff?

Listening to your employees is key to getting the design right. Find out how people like to work, what things are important to their working day and what space they need to do their job well. By feeling included in the decision, employees are automatically more receptive to the layout. Simple changes such as bringing in a whiteboard for brainstorming area, or providing a meeting room, could transform the working environment, so it is important to find out what your employees want.

What other workplace factors do you think employers may have potentially wrongly assumed is preferred by their staff? 

This survey has shown that there may be other areas where companies have got it wrong, but the only way to find out is to ask staff directly. Creating an anonymous questionnaire before making changes can prevent this sort of misunderstanding.

Aside from office layout, what other factors do you think could be key to employee productivity?

All sorts of factors, big and small can make a difference to employee morale and the productivity of a team. It Is important to think about factors outside of the office as well as in – whether that is offering employees reduced memberships at local gyms so they stay healthy and happy, or arranging regular socials to make sure the team is bonded. Again, asking your staff what they want is always a good tactic rather than trying to guess!

For more information on Expert Market please visit