In 2014, the Washington Post published an article about the detriments of the open office. The article compared the open office to being naked in public. The remainder of the article took some major jabs at the perceived failures of the open office, making a strong case to the reader that Google did in fact ‘get it wrong’ when they designed their workplace.
But where this article actually ‘gets it wrong’ is when it made the assumption that all open office environments are created equal. They are not. The open office is more than just ditching the cubicles and corner offices. The open office involves strategically designing a workplace that fits the needs of the user and providing choice. Choice is key. Choice provides control.
Since articles like these have started to surface, they are sometimes forwarded to us from worried clients. ‘Are we doing the right thing’, they ask?
Articles that denounce the open office are making workplace design seem very black and white, while the right design solution for our clients are almost always gray. You do not have to decide ‘open office’ or ‘private office’. If designed correctly, you can (and should) have both.
Companies often have Aha! moments when they realize how little they actually sit at their assigned desks. A typical schedule of today’s knowledge worker includes meetings, conference calls, travel, emails, and focus work. Sure, they are performing these tasks at their desks, but also in meeting rooms, on the phone in their cars, or even at home. On average, assigned desks are unoccupied 50% of the day.
Even if companies do not go to the extreme of a fully unassigned work environment, dedicating less square footage to owned space can have huge benefits. We have witnessed that the right mix of shared space can make everyone in the office perform better. When we look at space in a new way, everyone has access to a private office. Everyone has access to a meeting room when they need it, instead of having to schedule around other people. Users can focus on that report they need to review in private. They can meet in communal spaces and share ideas, allowing millennials to learn from the valuable knowledge of the soon to retire boomers.
The open office is not dead. In fact, an open office of choice and control is an effective approach to successful workplace design.
- Michelle Rotherham, Director - Interior Design