open concept offices

Once again there’s an article touting how cool open offices are. The examples in the article are in fact, very cool.

Do you work in an ‘open’ office? The kind that encourages collaboration, “where hierarchy has been ripped out, that makes everyone feel part of something special.”

Are you able to get work done? I know I’m not. And by the way, you’re not so special that I want to hear you take every call over the speaker on your phone.

In the article, What Makes a Cool Office? The answer to cool is It's more than just a billiards table and free soda. Design buffs weigh in on how to build a creative, collaborative, and innovative workspace.”

I do believe that an awesome workspace can inspire. I have worked in awesome and I have worked in miserable. And I have worked in the combination of the two. I love amazing architecture, new clean and modern, or historical buildings – each can possess an energy that is conducive to great creative collaboration.

So my issue is with distraction. No walls, no cubes, and lately, not even assigned desks. Everyone is portable all the time, sitting at the same table. If you want or need quiet you must either use headphones or take a walk over to the corner Starbuck’s / Peet’s / Coffee Bean. If you need to pull together a meeting, conference rooms – if they exist – are always booked.

Doesn't that tell you something? Your colleagues are either working in small groups off-site or have snagged one of the precious conference rooms.

And if you need to make a personal call, you have to walk out of the office.

So how much work do you actually get done in that cool office?

I worked in an agency in a historical building and everyone had offices. It never hindered collaboration. In fact, people were in each other’s’ offices all the time. They could shut the door and get work done, or leave it open – and we could always hear what was going on with open doors. Imagine that.

Then, I worked in an open office – which was quite large – and to mask conversations, ‘white noise’ was added. Nice. I had a white noise speaker right over my desk. It was deafening, and at 5:30pm when it shut off, everyone relaxed. Go figure. And as the one who had to follow-up on all active projects, the pure joy of having everyone within earshot – or in view – was a huge waste. My colleagues were usually out for coffee.

If you want successful open concept offices, here’s a challenge for your architects and space planners: make it cool, but please provide space where staff can really work.

Collaboration is not always a happy accident.  It can be a major distraction – for others. You can be a part of something special by being able to get your work done – at the office.