FINALLY a nuanced view on Open Plan offices and how they could benefit certain ways of working. Spoiler alert; very much dependent on the work culture and how the open plan is designed…

An open plan works when designed in the context of your team’s dynamics, work style, industry, and culture.

… they don’t work if your corporate values are misaligned, and team members haven’t developed trust in one another to collaborate at a high level.

The article then goes into a case study of Menlo innovations, where

…open space itself is not the secret sauce; it’s the feeling of belonging to a community defined by a shared vision of developing (for Menlo) really good technology for a great return, and doing it in a collaborative spirit.

At Menlo, they try to foster the culture from the start: in their recruitment, they look for candidates who show 

… good “kindergarten skills,” meaning if they don’t play well with others in an open space, they’re not a good fit.

I really like this comparison… Especially since one of the main collaborative development frameworks I know (Scrum) has been alternatively been described as a game, which gives lots of joy and potentially fantastic outcomes if played well.

After this great example, the article warns to keep in mind that the collaborative, open, playful ways of working are not for everyone. It’s a pity though that they also need to mention generational differences, since there’s little actual evidence that age (generation) really matters. The conclusion however, goes for everyone:

…workers of any breed … should have some privacy to think, focus, and recharge.

This is what I’ve seen at many places already, having an open plan office while keeping your sanity, there’s a need for enough break out rooms for  collaboration (keeping the open plan workable). Three’s a crowd, and crowds are noisy and potentially disturbing the flow(s) of those hard at work (in my experience).

So when you get the chance (or create the chance) to re-design your workplace… start by consulting those who work there.

Start by asking yourselves:

What do we want to do with our space?
What do we want to get out of our people?
What kind of behavior do we want to encourage?
How can we represent our organization’s values?

Get the balance right, based on the needs of those doing the work, as described by those doing the work. 

Remember that the goal of any office workspace is to support & facilitate doing actual work. 

Therefore I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion:

…serve the right environment so that you get the best out of them.


Read the entire article by Marcel Schwantes for here:

What’s your experience with open-plan offices? Did it impede your productivity & how did you fix that? Or are you a fan and why?

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