This is a topic in General HR

Open Plan Environment

Apr 12, 2009 4:29pm

J Fisher
2 posts

Open Plan Environment

Most work environments are now open plan but the debate over its benefits continues.  Open-plan offices have been found to have positive effects, such as increased employee communication and interaction, flexibility, ability to house more employees etc.  But on the flipside, negative effects include increased noise, distractions, perceived crowding and decreased privacy.

In terms of the Human Resource Professional, if the role and responsibilities includes highly sensitive and confidential staff matters, such as remuneration and benefits, workers compensation, harassment and discrimination and terminations and performance issues, is the open plan environment suitable for Human Resources?

Further, is the option of quiet and/or break out rooms if and when available for the HR professional sufficient.? Does the lack of privacy limit staff access to HR?

Would be interested to hear from AHRI members their views on the open plan office for the HR Professional.

J Fisher

Last edited by J Fisher (Apr 12, 2009 7:36pm)


Apr 14, 2009 12:40am

R Riley
10 posts

Re: Open Plan Environment

I do feel that the open plan environment does impact negatively on my role. Whenever preparing reports, contracts etc I am always a bit nervous that employees will be able to see my screen and view sensitive information. When discussing offers or pre-employment medicals over the phone I find it hard to answer questions relating to sensitive information being within earshot of so many people.

On top of this, if an employee needs to come to me with an issue, we have to go find a private place to talk, which can sometimes only draws attention to that fact that the employee needs to discuss something with HR.

While the HR manager has a seperate office (as do all senior managers), the office walls are glass, so other than mitigating the noise, does not really detract from the other issues.


Apr 15, 2009 9:09am

11 posts

Re: Open Plan Environment

For the last few years I've had a private office in my HR positions, however I've recently started with a new organisation which is very space limited and I've been placed into an open plan environment with a commitment to have my own office built in the upcoming renovations of the building.   

Being able to talk confidentially on the phone or in person with an employee or other manager is the most difficult aspect being in this environment.  I feel there is no privacy or confidentiality when everyone can see who, when and hear what is being discussed with the HR Manager.

I've now booked blocked times for the board room which has two entries/ exits and enables a little bit more privacy in my meetings.

On the flip side, it's really nice to be able to hear the conversations and gauge the culture of the organisation as it has given me a deeper understanding and exposure to what is "happening" in the business.  I think that I've been seen to be more visible which has also been a great intro to the role and me personally.

Overall, I'd have to say that I would still prefer a private office environment.  A place where files, records and conversations are safe, private, and confidential.


Apr 15, 2009 8:56pm

69 posts

Re: Open Plan Environment

Both have their respective advantages. I currently work in an open plan office and I am the stand alone HR manager. I do not have an office but a table on a pod as with every other staff (apart from directors and some managers).

The benefits of an open plan office that I have come across include

- You are working 'with' your clients. You hear what is said, you can observe body language and most importantly, people can observe you working. Considering HR is (in my opinion) suppose to champion policies and practices I find the best way to get people to follow something is by doing it yourself. Visibility is the key here.

- You are accessible and there is no real barrier between you and your clients. I, of course, do not include your own personality and others perception of you in the above definition of barrier.

The downsides however are

- Privacy. As it has already been stated working in HR is about working with confidential information as well as being seen as being able to be trusted with confidential information. If people see you being tardy with personal or sensitive information then they may be less inclined to come and speak to you or confide in you. There is always the issue of having to minimise what’s on your computer screen or turn every piece of paper over when you leave your desk.

- Workflow. You simply cannot have an optimum work output when so much of the work HR does needs to be done with privacy in mind. You can only make selected calls at certain periods of the day or hold meetings when it’s the most appropriate. I personally have the benefit of having interview rooms which I can use, but as R Riley has stated, walking into an clear wall interview room doesn’t leave for much visual privacy. 

One example that I have faced in regards to visual privacy making things difficult is when I was having a meeting with a new employee. This new employee started crying. Not one or two tears but a deluge. To add to it, her nose started running as well. To make things even worse there was no tissue box in the interview room (always check there are tissues handy as you never know what may happen even if you have been reassured by the person you are speaking to). I didn’t want to let on this employee was crying so I had to pretend I myself had a really runny nose and needed to sneeze really badly when I was getting the tissue box. I don’t know if this was effective or not but it was definitely better than letting everyone in on the fact this new employee was clearly distressed.

- Personal space. I believe some people hold the belief that HR practitioners shouldn’t show emotions i.e. get angry or be overly emotional. However, in HR there are times when you really need to let off some steam and not speak to anyone. In an open plan this is simply not possible.



Login to post a reply