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An office with strings attached


The modern office has thrown out the rule book which once dictated that working environments should be formal, enclosed spaces based more on hierarchy than seeking to inspire creation and productivity among the entire workforce, says Nigel Crunden from Office Depot. The trend for creating more open plan spaces is now firmly embedded in workplace culture with office spaces now increasingly used for a variety of purposes and sometimes, by multiple businesses.

So far, so good: by making the office more versatile and tailored to the needs of a particular activity, the space can become more inclusive and increase staff engagement levels as a result.

So what’s the problem?

Incorporating flexibility into workplace layout aids creativity and productivity but also makes the environment a more public space where preserving security and confidentiality should be prioritised.

What solutions can be implemented?

There are a number of practical and technology-related solutions that can be used to address this issue:

An open plan environment increases the risk of confidential information being viewed by unauthorised employees or third parties. The widespread use of smartphones means that it is easy to capture a shot of a computer screen – known as ‘visual hacking’. Employees should be advised to angle their screens away from high-traffic areas or use privacy filters and ensure their computers are password protected and turned off when not in use

Ensure secure drawers are available for employees to store confidential documents and devices in

Although it is likely that secure storage will be used for laptops, it is worth considering installing cameras in an open plan environment – allowing easier identification of unlawful activity

Storing information in the cloud reduces the risk of work getting lost due to electronic malfunctions. However, if a meeting needs to take place where print outs are required, handheld tablets should be considered as an alternative viewing method, to counter the risk of physical copies being left behind or misplaced

Using office shredders and outsourcing the collection of confidential waste are vital components of maintaining confidentiality in the workplace

Although open plan is very much the order of the day, the need to have confidential discussions or meetings still occurs. Temporary partitioning can be used to facilitate this. Also, many open plan offices will have a selection of separate meeting rooms available which can be used in this instance 

There is no doubt that open plan, flexible workspaces bring many advantages. Multi-functional workspaces allow for increased activity, productivity and potentially profit. Through sharing a space that can facilitate a wider range of business activities the opportunity to grow increases.

However, while sharing in this sense is beneficial, it becomes less so when the issue of managing confidential information and conversations comes into play. As with any new design solution though, the most important consideration is to have the systems and tools in place to minimise the risk of security breaches that could defeat the whole objective of working in this way.

About Charlie Kortens

Charlie Kortens

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