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How to Reconcile Efficiency and Well-being in Open Space Environments

How to Reconcile Efficiency and Well-being in Open Space Environments

Contributed by Jean-Christophe Beau and Gaël Allain, Founder and Scientific Director, respectively, of My Mental Training Pro®.

Invented in the 1950s, Open Space work environments developed in the United States and gradually made their way to Europe.

The idea: de-compartmentalize, break silos, foster collaboration, and, secondarily, make office space modular and more affordable !

Whatever the reason (and however honorable), the success of the Open Space model, which occurred simultaneously with that of digital technology, has led to fundamental changes in the way we process information.

In particular, the increased volume of digital data to be managed, combined with the greater number of interruptions involved in group work, puts people and their brains in a delicate and difficult situation.

It is not, however, our intention to get into an anti-Open Space discussion here. Open Space environments exist, and it is unlikely that companies and office space planners will go back to building partitions tomorrow!

But the good news is that it is possible to work calmly and efficiently in this type of workspace by applying basic rules of mental ecology.

The first thing to do is create a charter for mental ecology* and combat interruptions by collectively re-examining the alternation between the phases of concentration and collaboration that characterize the knowledge professions.

In such a setting, solutions are provided through office space planning and organization techniques and through individual and collective rules designed to manage the flow of information.

As far as layout is concerned, it is essential to have quiet zones, which allow employees or managers to concentrate and work in a calm environment, without disturbances. These rooms, or designated spaces, can also be similar to a library, where people work side-by-side in silence.

At the same time, more restricted spaces should be offered, so that people who create interference (eg. telephone calls, informal exchanges) may withdraw themselves to avoid disturbing their colleagues. These spaces complement the traditional meeting rooms and other areas intended for collaboration. Where necessary, a group scheduling system may be used to designate times when interferences are permitted in Open Space areas and times when silence must be maintained.

With regard to the processing of information, the best practices are the following :

1. Know exactly where to do what: This is a matter of managing the level of sensory stimulation you need, depending on the activity you need to perform. In other words, choose open spaces for collaboration and spaces that will guarantee you the calm needed for concentration. If you have no other options, adopt sound insulation strategies, such as our concentration-boosting white noise or music**.

2. Develop self-discipline ! If you have chosen a perfectly quiet place to complete a project, but your phone or inbox disturbs you every 20 seconds, you will not reap the benefits of such a work environment. So, learn not to let yourself be overwhelmed by details and decide, precisely and in advance, which information you want to work on. Then, eliminate all potential sources of stimulus and create 25-minute, distraction-free periods to concentrate.

3. Restore yourself ! Life in Open Space is very animated, requiring a great deal of energy to ‘ignore’ irrelevant stimuli, such as conversations, the comings and goings of colleagues, the noise of the Xerox machine, etc… Under these conditions, it is normal to experience fatigue and periods of lack of concentration! Take advantage of them, using our micro-breaks to give your mind free rein for a few moments, or to do some subtle stretches.

Finally, note that these good practices, which are essential in Open Space environments, are useful for everyone, even those lucky enough to have a private office! Regardless of circumstances, for comfort and efficiency at work, try My Mental Training Pro.

  • Charter for Mental Ecology: Since no two companies or departments are the same, there are no standard operating instructions for performance in Open Space environments. It is, therefore, necessary to draft specific rules, in a process of co-construction with all concerned.


** On My Mental Training Pro, you will find a source of white noise, made up of sounds commonly found in nature. They provide the advantage of effectively insulating you from ambient noise. On My Mental Training Pro, you will also find music, structured into 25-minute sessions, that is ideally suited for concentration.

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