How to Build Employee Engagement: Open-Plan Offices

Ted Devine

Monday, May 6th, 2013

With the latest unemployment numbers showing that U.S. businesses are steadily adding new jobs and the Dow Jones breaking records, the economic outlook in much of the country is brighter than it’s been in years.

As a small business owner, it’s essential to take advantage of these economic indicators to expand your operations and keep your business growing. And study after study shows that, by simply increasing employee engagement, business owners can improve nearly every area of their performance.


Because engaged employees have been found to lead directly and indirectly to:

  • Decreased turnover rates.
  • Higher operating income.
  • Higher productivity.
  • Fewer missed days.
  • Increased customer loyalty.

In a recovering economy, these factors can make the difference between ho-hum growth and pedal-to-the-metal expansion. So how can you build employee engagement without hiring a top-dollar consultant or sitting through a weekend retreat?

Start with eliminating the physical barriers in your workplace.

How to Build Employee Engagement:

Open-Plan Offices: Employee Engagement Machines

Studies of open office spaces show that they are effective at increasing employee engagement. I see this research confirmed on a daily basis thanks to the open-plan office I work in.

The benefits of an open office space include:

The Ability to Share Great Ideas With Each Other

I’d love to take credit for all the great ideas in the office, but the truth is that many fresh ideas come from my team members.

Thanks to our open office plan, they can (and do) flag me down, point out a process or procedure that’s inefficient or not working and suggest a solution. Within a matter of minutes, we’re talking through improvements and making changes.

As CEO, it’s my job to recognize when one of my team members is being brilliant and then funnel resources to that person so he or she can make great things happen. This agility empowers everyone in my office to take ownership of what they do and initiate improvements when necessary – and that benefits the entire company.

Everyone Talks to Everyone

This builds friendships among the team, which boosts employee engagement. Members of my team have independently launched a basketball league, after hours get-togethers and office birthday celebrations.  All of which make the office a pleasant place to be.  When you spend the majority of your waking hours somewhere, you want it to be pleasant.

A side benefit is that everyone knows what’s going on in various departments, which prevents anyone from feeling as if they’re working in a silo. When everyone has an idea of how their work contributes to the greater good, it boosts internal motivation and productivity.

Accountability for the Work

No walls in the office means no slinking off to a cubicle to play solitaire or fritter away time on social media. When I can stroll by and ask for an update at any moment, my team knows they need to be ready to show me something good.

But this goes both ways: I’m also on the hook for being productive.

My team hears me talking to their colleagues, asking about the latest developments and offering feedback. We’re all constantly accountable for our work, which means we’re constantly pushed to produce the best work we can.

Successes Can Be Rewarded in Real Time

When one of our producers makes a sale, they ring a bell and folks in the office offer a word of encouragement. During our weekly office meetings, we acknowledge the work each department has done to move us forward. And I’m never shy about announcing to the entire team a particularly deft maneuver I notice someone making.

The promise of rewards for good work keeps my team motivated and makes them feel valued when they deliver.

If You Can’t Show the Door the Door

So how can you improve employee engagement if switching to a more open office layout isn’t a possibility?

Go out of your way to show your team that they matter to you and to your business. Ask for their opinions about the work they do (and actually take what they say into consideration). Use face-to-face conversations instead of email when possible and hold your team accountable for what they do.

Reward them when they do it well.

As you improve the engagement of your staff, you can expect to see improvements in nearly every business indicator you track – no matter what happens in the larger economy.

About Ted Devine

Ted Devine is CEO of insureon, the leading online provider of business insurance to small and micro businesses. Prior to joining insureon, he was President of Aon Risk Services and a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company.