Open Office Design: Are They really making us happier?

Fast Company recently reported on a two part series regarding open office design.  On November 6 they first reported on, “How to Create an Open Office that is More Awesome for Both Introverts and Extroverts” making a claim for open office spaces. Reporter Anaji Mullaney makes a case for Fast Company’s open office space, and while she admits the office could have approached the layout differently she does say that the open layout has contributed to:

  • Less cluttered inbox
  • An open office plan is less intimidating
  • They foster collaboration
  • Creating a library effect.  Break down partitions for a quieter space!
  • and possibly most importantly, it gets upper-level managers out of their office and encourages interaction across the board.

It sounds great, right?  Well, Fast Company then reported “You’re not Alone: Most People Hate Open Offices,” referencing a University of Sydney study which discovered that ease of communication does not outweigh the lack of privacy.  The Harvard Business Review took the findings and placed them into charts highlighting the dissatisfaction of those in enclosed offices as compared to those in open office layouts. Some of the results are illustrated below:

Workers reported that their personal space was “most important,” and not having an enclosed office affected their workplace happiness and productivity.

The bridge between the articles is that they both put forth theories for finding a balance between group “collaboration and solitary exploration.” After all, that’s what work is in concept; we work with others, and we work alone – often doing one more than the other, depending on one’s position and industry or merely the day of the week.  The key is balance, and everyone’s balance – or where they operate in their most professionally productive and personally fulfilling sense – is different.

Today, the topic of work and workplace is extremely important as more individuals desire a voice in how their working environment is designed. Often, this degree of individual involvement and personally-focused kind of work environment leads the interior design down a path of creating a hybrid, living-work environment, like that depicted in Herman Miller’s newest “Living Office” system.

This system, or series of systems, begets options for individuals, whether it is for collaboration, personal retreat, relaxing, thinking, etc. It caters to the individual by blending living space with office resources. Thus, with the lines between living and work and space continually being blurred, the challenge is not siding with “open office” or “no open office,” but rather finding the intersection between the two that converges both sides of the argument, effectively and meaningfully.

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