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There’s a great illustration of the triad of spaces, technology, and people on our sister website for collaboration technology, No Jitter, this week. No Jitter special content editor Michelle Burbick posted a slideshow from her visit to an event put on by Business Office Systems (BOS), an office furniture dealer based in the Chicago suburbs. As you click through the pictures from the event, you’ll see and read about the trends, challenges, and opportunities that are bringing IT to bear on office environments, while also requiring lots of input from the HR side of the enterprise in order to understand how best to create effective spaces for collaboration.

Michelle’s slideshow illustrates the balances that office designers need to strike with the technology requirements of the new spaces. She cites the problems inherent with glass walls, which designers love and which give employees a lighter, airier-looking space in which to work—but which are terrible for acoustics and thus work against some of the new technologies that are now available to improve the meeting experience.

Another interesting way that we’re seeing technology and space planning come together: Technology based on the Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing enterprises to understand, better than ever, the true level of utilization for various office spaces.

That’s a critical factor, partly, I believe, because we’re headed for a reckoning when it comes to open office plans. The criticism is getting louder, the evidence beginning to confirm many people’s feeling that just putting a bunch of workers together in a big room does more harm than good to productivity. (Per this example, you know something’s bad when you have to spell “suck” with three “u”s.)

But we can’t go back. Go back to what? Cubicles? You’ve seen “Office Space,” right? When I think about that movie, the boss isn’t annoying just because of all the “I’m gonna need you to…”s and “M’kay?”s. It’s that element of him emerging from his lair to loom over the pitiful cube wall to make his passive-aggressive demands of his put-upon underlings.

We all want privacy, but a cubicle was hardly a private space. Everyone would love to have their own office; as Gallup found, “Employees who say they have a door they can shut are 1.3 times more likely to be engaged than other employees.” According to Gallup, 52% of the workforce says they have such a door—which means 48% don’t.

That 48% is what we’re talking about here. Their needs were either ignored or badly misjudged in past generations, and the current trend, of which open office is a part, aims to include them. In a sense, it’s also trying to include the lucky 52% who can shut their doors against the riffraff—the theory is that these people need to be out there, mixing and mingling, collaborating and being collaborated with.

Of course, the most powerful driver of open offices is that they’re cheaper than the other options. And the more you do to make an open office a place where people can actually get work done, the more that cuts into your savings.

Enterprises are going to have to do it anyway.

One of the mantras in the tech world is, “Work isn’t a place you go; it’s a thing you do.” This maxim is often used to promote the idea of remote work, but it can also be applied to the office: Work is a thing you do at a place you go. Or more accurately, it’s multiple things you do at a place you go.

Big open rooms with static workstations combine the worst of the past and the present/future and don’t serve this new definition of work. “Open” offices can be a better alternative, but it’ll take real effort and a desire by enterprise management to get it right. HR, IT/AV, and Facilities/Real Estate all have a part to play in making that happen.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair WorkSpace Connect &  Enterprise Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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