Contrary to popular belief, the open office concept didn’t come from the 80’s and 90’s start-up companies of the Silicon Valley. In 1939, Architect Frank Llyod Wright designed the Johnson Wax Headquarters. The office lacked any partition, but rather was divided up by thin white columns, filing cabinets, and oval desks.
For decades, the open office concept has been touted as the best thing since sliced bread. In Canada, about 60% of companies have open offices.
Private offices were seen as outdated symbols of corporate hierarchy that needed to be eliminated. An open layout seemed to convey a modern, break-all-the-rules attitude. It was also thought to improve both communication and productivity.
Fast forward to 2019, growing evidence suggests the exact opposite. Many office workers have experienced the pitfalls of the barrier-free space. Distractions abound, from loud-talkers to noisy phone ringtones, to the colleague who eats a tuna sandwich at their desk every-single-day. Sounds familiar?
Raise your hand if your way of coping with these annoyances is to plug your ear-buds or put your headphones on. How is that supposed to increase communication and collaboration?
So what do you do if you are stuck with an open space office? Worry not, we have a couple of design suggestions for you.
Bio…what? Simply put, biophilic design integrates natural light, materials, and vegetation into work environments with the goal of not only providing aesthetic appeal but also having positive, therapeutic effects on workers.Picture multiple indoor planters, big windows, and a ton of wood furniture.
Amazon’s Spheres in Seattle are a great -and grand- example of biophilic design.
OK, you may not be able to afford this, but you get the gist. So, if your employees want to bring their green plants to the office…let them!
Activity-Based Working (ABW)
As employee demographics shift and technology becomes more capable, the when, where, and how of work has altered significantly. More and more employees work remotely or with flexible hours. The result of all this change is that assigned desks have become archaic and expensive to maintain.
ABW provides a variety of flexible environments for specific types of activities. When a worker is doing a certain type of activity, they go to the space designed to support it.
Most offices are already familiar with at least 2 ABW spaces: the meeting room and the break room. You may want to consider creating a specific space for a group of people who are by definition spending a lot of time working together and doing similar tasks.
Microsoft’s Headquarters in Redmond are organized that way. The campus boasts a shopping centre, a library, shuttle services, and of course tons of office space. With 47 000 employees, as much is definitely needed!
The truth is that all major companies have jumped on the band wagon of the improved open office concept. Amazon and Microsoft aren’t the only ones. Giants like Apple, AirBnB or Google also have incredible office designs.
What are the other 2 points these companies have in common? Yes, you guessed it: they are generating billions of dollars in profits and they are highly sought-after by employees.
A great and functional office space is an employee retention tool that is often overlooked by employers. You can offer great compensation and equally great benefits, but if your office plan sucks it will cause frictions and problems at some point.
This is something we know from personal experience, here at Skyscape Consulting. Our Principal ended-up quiting an employer, partly because the office settings were neither sustainable nor conducive to productive work.