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.
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.