Is Your Office Layout Helping or Hurting You?
The office. It's a place that is supposed to foster collaboration, focus, and getting the day's work done effectively. Right? But there are many opinions about what kind of office space is most productive. Gone are the days of the coveted corner office; it seems that there are two main options out there these days: the dreaded ugly cubicle, or the modern-day open work space.
Did you know that furniture giant Hermann Miller created the first cubicle in 1967 as a response to the chaos of open offices? Rows upon rows of open desks with noisy telephones and typewriters was thought of as distracting and counterproductive (source).
The cubicle was meant to bring sound absorption, privacy and focus into the office. While it did bring some privacy, it also brought some negatives to employees, such as lack of light and views, less than ideal seating arrangements (anyone who has had someone sneak up behind them knows what we're talking about), and a continuation of noise issues.
Most people seated at cubicles have no outdoor view or exposure natural light! A study conducted at Northwestern University in Chicago, titled "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life", showed detrimental impact of working in a windowless environment. Workers in offices without windows reported poorer scores in quality of life, physical problems, sleep efficiency, daytime dysfunction, and more, compared to their peers with windows. Study co-author Ivy Cheung stated, "The extent to which daylight exposure impacts office workers is remarkable". Eight or more hours under fluorescent light and no view of the outside world can surely get depressing, and affect productivity and morale.
Furthermore, workers in cubicle environments continue to complain of noise issues and the complete lack of speech privacy. One Workplace design consultant, John Ferrigan, who has worked with Silicon Valley companies to reshape work environments says that "desks divided by tall cubicle-like partitions hiding our faces from one another gives people a false sense of acoustic privacy". He mentions that having lower partitions, allowing co-workers to see each others' faces may help in that department, giving them a constant reminder that others may be trying to concentrate.
Meanwhile, the advent of the tech start-up has brought the ever popular "open work space" to many offices across the country. The idea of saving some serious cash on office furniture by seating employees at one long table, combined with the notion of a collaborative environment and the desire to "be more like Google" made the open work space concept the "cool" thing to do.
However, there are several pros and cons to this setup, as well. An open work space does, indeed, encourage team work, collaboration, and idea sharing. Many also believe that putting the entire team, including the boss, in one room together can raise morale and even make it less intimidating to ask questions or talk to the boss by eliminating the need to knock on office doors.
While that may be true, we also have to take a look at the flip side of this situation. An open work space exposes everyone to constant interruptions. While asking questions and sharing opinions can be great in a creative field, office productivity can plummet when workers are being stopped or distracted consistently throughout the day.
Furthermore, like cubicles, open work spaces lend zero acoustical privacy, making it hard to concentrate, difficult to hear over other conversations, and awkward if you need to take a personal call.
So...what's the solution? It may be different for each company. Maybe an open work space would be better if there were separate areas for team meetings, or review sessions and collaborations, so that continued conversation wouldn't distract others trying to get individual tasks done. Perhaps "call rooms" could provide a place for employees to participate in long conference calls that may disrupt the rest of the studio, and also give some privacy to take the occasional personal call without having to hide in the hallway.
Each company needs to look at the projects they complete, how their team works best, and what would make them the most efficient. Every office shouldn't look exactly alike; companies shouldn't throw themselves into a particular layout just because everyone else is doing it. Bosses should spend time among their employees in order to get a real feel for the office space and better understand the conditions they are working under. Maybe, once all of those items are considered, we can start creating spaces that truly work for everyone in the office.
How is your office laid out? What do you think is the best solution to creating a space that encourages teamwork while also allowing workers to have the concentration and privacy needed to get their daily work done effectively?