Oct 20, 2014
BY: and
THEME: Workplace

Beyond Physical Space: Rethinking the Open Office Debate

The Open Office: Harbinger of Doom

Employees Stage Protest After Office Renovation

These headlines may be fake, but the backlash is very real.  Despite being linked to increased engagement, greater access to light and views, and overall work satisfaction, the open office has been put through the ringer, with battle cries for privacy and quiet dominating the discussion.

In a recent article for Metropolis, we argued that space and the physical design of a workplace may not be solely to blame for this dissatisfaction. Rather, there are other forces at play such as the current nature of work itself. We can all relate to the plight of the overflowing inbox; no doubt, the pace of business is accelerating. Also, the way companies are doing business—from developing products to interacting with clients—is continually evolving.  These shifts often mean we work around the clock, less tethered to the physical workplace when a simple Internet connection will suffice.

This is not to say that an office can’t reinforce behaviors and signal cues to support organizational changes that have not been fully adopted. The important distinction is that while design can enable change, it cannot lead it nor can it compensate for culture failures, such as when leadership’s message and management’s action don’t reinforce each other (e.g., a company policy supports remote work, but participants are penalized; or team-based goals are undermined by individual reward structures).

Is it any wonder that employee engagement is at a newsworthy low? Gallup reports that only 30% of people in full-time jobs are engaged and inspired at work. Similarly, a Towers Watson study has 40% of workers reporting that they are unsupported or detached, and another 25% admitted to feeling completely disengaged. And yet, the office is the scapegoat for this bleak picture. The environment is visual, tactile and malleable and thus—you got it—an easy target.

Our opportunity and responsibility as designers is to ensure that a workspace can contribute to a high-performance organization. Yes, space matters, but its design shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. So what are the key considerations when embarking on an office design? Read more at Metropolis find out.

One Trackback

  1. By This Week’s Recommended Reading on November 1, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    […] Beyond Physical Space: Rethinking the Open Office Debate Employees Stage Protest After Office Renovation. These headlines may be fake, but the backlash is very real. Despite being linked to increased engagement, greater access to light and views, and overall work satisfaction, the open office has been put through the ringer, with battle cries for privacy and quiet dominating the discussion… Perkins + Will […]

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