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by | May 15, 2018

The Open Office Trend

Cube-y or not cube-y? That is the question.

For the past decade or more, when it comes to designing a workspace, companies have been asking themselves this question – how to best motivate and retain employees, particularly the more mobile and demanding ones of today?

In general, offices have clearly come a long way from the cattle-like, depressing cube farms that popped up in 80s and 90s. In a click or two, people today can see exactly what the Googles and Apples are doing for their employees, and there’s no doubt it has forced all employers to step up their game.

Should You be Hoping for Open?

While the idea of an open office concept sounds great, there are some drawbacks to it: there’s often a lack of privacy, a noisy background for important calls and conversations, and it’s obviously tougher to hide a bad hair day when everyone can see you all the time.

Also, at the moment a company tears down its walls and moves to an open office, will everyone suddenly collaborate and operate at 300% productivity while simultaneously singing Kumbaya? This may be a bit of a stretch. Human nature will still prevail, with politics and differing agendas not simply vanishing along with the cubicle walls.

But the advantages of going to an open – or at least semi-open – concept clearly outweigh the drawbacks. Here are just a few:

  • Efficiency and productivity. According to a Wall Street Journal article, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline moved its workers from cubicles and offices to open-plan work tables and email traffic dropped by more than 50%, while decision making accelerated by some 25% because workers were able to meet informally instead of volleying emails from offices and cubes.
  • Happiness. This is the stated raison d’être of Finnish company Framery, a company that has created soundproof booths specifically for the open office. Their products recognize the inherent need for happiness in the workplace and how the space itself is critical to making this happen. For the best shot at office bliss, modeling your office after a co-working space is a big plus for millenials, as points out.

Listen up Leaders

Harvard Business Review identifies “place identity” as a key determinant of success when creating an open office, and specifically the need for the leadership team to embrace the idea: “When leaders were positive, place identity flourished. When they were neutral or negative, place identity suffered, and workers were less likely to embrace the new office space.”

So, just as having executive buy-in helps everywhere from sustainability practices to casual Fridays – it helps seeing the senior team recycling and wearing jeans – it seems the same applies to open offices. The ivory tower effect of corner offices and closed doors doesn’t fit when everyone else is working in an open space.

Ok then, let’s say the exec team is onboard. The green light has been given. Go ahead and create a mixed ecosystem – where spaces to focus quietly or hold private conversations are mixed into an overall open environment.

And finally, as we’re fond of reminding our faithful readers, we also happen to know of a company who can help with your open office space…