There have been many articles recently, critiquing the open plan office. It’s not hard to see why…noisy, no privacy, no personal space, constant interruptions.  It doesn’t have to be this way though, a truly smarter office offers the right environment for the work you need to do and recognises that through a given working day or week, that work changes and hence, so does the environment you need.

 So is this the renaissance of the cube farm? Not quite…  .  When we look, broadly, at the type of work people do, then we can break it down into four types with each type being most efficient in a certain environment.

  • Collaborate – work with others on face to face activities.  Examples of the environment are open plan areas, pods, meeting rooms
  • Communicate – work with remote colleagues .  Examples of the environment are fixed or flexible desks with good acoustic shielding
  • Concentrate – individual work requiring concentration with no interruptions. Individual seating or ‘Monk cells’ that remove external distractions
  • Contemplate – taking a break from the formal work, or socialising.  The café, or a small informal area near the coffee machine.

So having an office designed of a single type of environment implies that only a single of work takes place. This isn’t a realistic scenario for any office, so companies that switch from all cubicles to all open plan in search of improved collaboration and productivity are finding that these extremes are as bad as each other. 

 Also, when we look at peoples working habits, more and more are spending time away from the office, so collaborative activity needs to reflect remote workers as much as people in the same building.

 The big driver behind all of these new office designs is the promise of increased collaboration.  But collaboration is bigger than office design, throwing together everyone in the same space without the right culture isn’t going to work. Get your culture right, then get a smarter office to improve the productivity of all workers, not just those collaborating face to face.