If you are reading this while sat in an open office then congratulations you are currently enjoying the latest in modern trendy office environment. The rise of the open plan office (particularly in research) is so prolific that I wouldn’t be surprised if those of you in small (1-5 person) offices are being quietly moved into larger spaces while you’re distracted reading this.
Now, I am just a simple researcher and despite having worked in a wide range of open plan offices I’ve always been inherently sceptical and fearful of them. Like all researchers I prefer to hide in a corner only coming out for sugary snacks and to print journal papers to use as bedding.
So having recently moved back into an open plan office I thought it worth taking a moment to focus on the great benefits open plan spaces can give you and your colleagues. Given their prolific rise I can only assume they must have them.
Almost every time I’ve ever been shepherded into an open plan office by management this has been the first go-to positive thing. The logic is flawless – two colleagues in two separate rooms can’t talk, take down the wall and they can talk.
That is of course assuming that they want to talk in the first place, but that’s a minor detail. If they can talk then surely they will. The walls were the only thing holding these discussions back and now without them the communication will flow, leading to a new golden age of colleague dialogue.
Obviously initially there’ll be some awkwardness and complaints. Some people might complain that they aren’t talking to their colleagues because their other colleagues are busy trying to work. But you and your colleagues will quickly lose this basic human politeness and find talking loudly just behind someone working completely natural.
Now obviously as the open plan office is flawlessly enhancing communication it is going to lead to lots of amazing new collaborative projects and ideas! As Steve Jobs said “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors” and what could possibly be better than turning the entire office into a corridor!
Think of all those conversations that would have been limited to happening in the space between offices that can now happen anywhere, no more do you even have to get up from your desk as your desk is part of that special ideas forming corridor space!
Better yet, you’re no longer limited to your space as you can have these idea-forming conversations right next to the desks of your other colleagues while they try and work on their own projects.
Workplace happiness and team building
So with everyone working on collaborative projects and happily chatting away, you and your colleagues will start finding that this office environment is vastly increasing your ‘workplace happiness’.
This advantage is very hard to quantify and some would cynically suggest it’s just a buzzword randomly used as justification in open office planning. But that’s obviously wrong for very good yet somehow undefinable reasons.
And with happiness will come a sense of closeness and a sense of being together. It has long been studied that when you put people together in close quarters they will form a warm bond and come together as a unit. Examples of this include groups of people in hostage situations, people stranded in inhospitable environments and even people that collectively experience severe trauma. In no time at all an Open Plan office will have a very similar effect.
Now unlike the previous advantages the budget isn’t about you or your colleagues – this is about the managers and people charged with looking after you and your work space. Companies/universities are hard to run and cost lots of money and two of the biggest expenses are people and somewhere to put people. Finding novel solutions to reducing the costs on space can save the big bucks.
And open offices are certainly space saving. By giving researchers half the normal desk space, no shelves and one tiny set of draws with a key that’s instantly lost a manager can pack in over 50% more researchers per square metre than before.
Those managers can feel a warm sense of accomplishment that they’ve found a solution that saves so much money and has so many clear and unarguable positives for researchers. And with all that money saved they’ll be able to design new even denser office space.
And as a researcher sitting in the office you might now share with 100 other people, take a moment to think about all these advantages and, more importantly, how much value you’re helping to make to the bottom line.