As I’ve written a couple of times before in this space, it’s my position that there’s no harm in admitting that the open office, at least as a general concept, is very unpopular among the people who have to spend their time working in such environments. One reason I believe it’s OK to acknowledge this is that, for a big chunk of the workforce, office designs have never been that great. Not everybody gets a private office, after all. So we don’t have to be defensive about the idea that “open office” as a term probably polls about as well as unshowered co-workers among enterprise employees.
Furthermore, I believe there’s truth in the idea that people want to collaborate when they’re in the office. Survey data tells us that people want to have a door they can close; but it’s also true that spending all your time in a private office can be isolating and convey a sense of aloofness.
“Open office” is a vague enough term that it can be applied selectively—on the one hand, to a vast, undifferentiated space optimized only for the lowest possible cost; on the other hand, to a thoughtfully planned, sensitively configured space that was designed with detailed and continuous input from workers and tailored to the specific kinds of work being done there.
So it’s time to move the discussion beyond open office—and that’s exactly what we’re going to do at our first-ever WorkSpace Connect event in Dallas the week of Sept. 9. Our program of breakout sessions is just about complete, and I’m particularly excited about a session that will be presented by Rachel Rouse, Principal/Director of Interiors at the renowned design firm HOK. In fact, Rachel’s session is titled, simply, “Moving Beyond Open Plan.”
In her presentation, Rachel will give a detailed look at the specific types of solutions that workplace strategists are implementing. These solutions rely on some common principles, but their implementations are as varied as the enterprises that create them. Rachel will help the audience learn how to identify the unique DNA of the company and the specialized groups within it and tailor the environment to meet everyone’s specific needs, as described in our session abstract.
Rachel and her colleagues at HOK use the term “space fusion” to describe an office whose spaces are configured to echo “the blurring of lines separating work, life, play and learning” that so many of us are seeing in all facets of our lives today.
“People are looking for choices about where and how they work, and our designers are looking to sectors like hospitality, healthcare and education to create next-generation workplace experiences that help employees feel and perform their best,” according to an HOK blog post.
The idea is to make workspaces echo the experience of being in these other types of spaces through which we move over the course of our lives—for example, retail-inspired amenities that look more like an urban coffee shop than the dreary “break rooms” of old, which were usually the last places anyone would want to go to actually take a break. Or common spaces that look more like hotel lobbies than sterile waiting rooms.
The message that Rachel will be bringing to WorkSpace Connect is that the modern office design can be a positive thing—if you’re open to the possibilities.