The Case for Collaborative Office Design
A discussion keeps going around the design industry; one that begs for an answer – does the open office design work? There are articles everywhere on the internet that have taken on the topics of workplace design: awards for designers and countless lists of tips but few really have an answer or an explanation of how this new design is affecting the people who actually work in this environment.
One article from PsychologyToday.com seems to at least address some of the issues that no one is talking about – here are a few:
“We’re still gaga about Google and plumping for Pixar.” For whatever reason, we seem to think that this is how everyone prefers to work. We want an environment filled with toys and gadgets to “play” with all day. Our preference is an office filled with primary colored seating, lots of creative chatter and of course, all the free food you can eat. THIS is the way to make satisfied, dedicated and happy workers.
Is it possible to affect behavior by manipulating the size and shapes of our spaces? If you listen to the proponents of the open office design you will hear a resounding YES but if you talk to the people who actually work in this unruly work space you will hear a different answer. Most employees who have been thrust into this way of work life state that it’s making their lives miserable. There is a lack of privacy, too much noise and it’s difficult to carry out their responsibilities in a manner they are comfortable with.
Are workers in this environment truly more creative? Again, the answer is inconclusive, however, while it’s true that sharing space with your coworker is likely to increase the number of interactions who might otherwise never speak to one another, the fact is that sometimes we need sole occupation of our space so that we can complete the task we’ve been hired to do – without disturbance.
Do workers still compete for that “prized” location? Even if there is a general understanding that no one “owns” space in an open office environment, there is still an underlying competition to stake claim to the prized locations. It’s just human nature. We are territorial; we will self-group, self-organize and compete for the favored spaces.
The article points out that “good office designs need to take such matters into account and not treat employees like autonomous widgets who will simply disperse into a space randomly like avatars in an elaborate video game.”
Should we treat our office space like the internet? It’s true that the traditional layout of corner offices surrounding a matrix of cubicles is old-school but should we throw it out completely? This new environment seems to treat all occupants as if we are all sharing one single node in cyberspace, running around, bumping elbows, and blocking access to favored locations with the best views. This is not real; we are living, breathing animals who need privacy, get hungry, and have lapses of attention when we’re distracted. And yet we continue to ignore this aspect of the office space equation.
The article goes on to highlight a few ways to make sure that your organization takes a few things into consideration when designing office space:
- Study your workflow
- Question your employees
- Collect and analyze actual data
- Find someone who understands this if you don’t
- Decide what is working and what needs improving
- Think about how the re-design will produce the changes you desire
Take the time to understand the shape and design of your office space before you jump in and make drastic changes to the environment you’re created. All the latest designer tips are great and might create the most creative team on the planet but it can also lead to complete annihilation.
Source: Psychology Today