Department of Health staff resisting move to open-plan office

An architect has warned that Miesian Plaza would resemble a call centre without walls...

Department of Health staff resisting move to open-plan office

Civil servants at the Department of Health are hesitant to leave their current Dublin home of Hawkins House due to the open-plan office layout that awaits them at their new HQ at Miesian Plaza.

According to the Sunday Business Post, staff are concerned that their work will be disrupted in the more modern environment and have gone as far as getting an architect's guidance on the matter for presentation to Health Minister Simon Harris.

The architect's report for the Association of Higher Civil & Public Servants claims that, without walls, the expensive office space in Baggot Street would resemble a call centre.

It read:

"A cluster of more than four workstations cannot be deemed as providing a satisfactory working environment. The potential for distraction and interruption of concentration in six- and eight-person clusters cannot be overestimated."

It was announced last year that the department would move to Miesian Plaza due to the rundown condition of Hawkins House in Poolbeg Street.

The Miesian Plaza site was once home to Bank of Ireland's headquarters, but the buildings were mostly vacated in 2008 and subsequently bought by businessman Larry Goodman in 2012.

The department has a long lease on the newly-developed €8.2m-a-year space. Its relocation of some 900 civil servants is set to begin next month following an office fit-out, with a period of overlap between the two offices.


Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, CPL recruitment's director Peter Cosgrove dismissed the civil servant concerns in general, while conceding that "I can see that there's a thing with change here."

He explained:

"So if you're used to a closed-plan office and you move to an open-plan office, the first time people do, they do see that there are a few challenges.

"I've heard people say it's like a call centre environment, because that's what they think it is, whereas actually if you move into any financial services, technology, media company, everybody's sitting in open-plan.

"But it doesn't mean there isn't change required if you're used to the closed-plan."

Cosgrove advised people to adapt as best they could, as the open-plan movement is going nowhere for now.

"This is the way the future of work is going," he said. "Not only are people in open-plan offices, people are now working at desks where they don't have to come to work all day. It is changing.

"It's understanding if you're in an open-plan office, you can still go to a place yourself. You can still go to a quiet area if you're writing something, if you need to think..."

Roughly 70% of offices across the US are defined as open-plan, with the Irish workplace quickly catching up and now likely to mirror that percentage. 

According to a 2013 survey by global design firm Gensler, over two-thirds of US employees are unhappy with noise levels at work. Some 53% reported being disturbed by other people when they were trying to focus.

Julian Treasure, the sound expert behind BBC Radio 4 documentary The Curse of Open Plan, told High Noon in April:

"It's very effective for one form of working, which is collaboration, and I think in the future there may be ways we can use open-plan very effectively.

"Badly-designed, it's a nightmare. It's clear that a lot of people are very unhappy in open-plan. They can't think, they can't concentrate, they're interrupted all the time.

"There are also – as one of my guests very interestingly said – no real rules or etiquette with open-plan. I mean, the postman doesn't come storming into your house and dump the post on your living room floor. But that is what happens in open-plan offices."

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that  some US bosses are "rebelling against the open-office movement, saying productivity and morale have suffered in the service of egalitarianism."