The open plan office was supposed to be the future (just like flying cars). But the more employers experimented with it, the more they realized it didn’t work. The open plan ideal is slowly but surely being supplanted by flexible working spaces that have zones for both concentration and communication.
For many employers and workers, this will come as good news. For years, employees in the business of writing reports and data entry have had to listen to music to drown out the general hubbub of the office environment and get their work done. It’s a shame, and it reveals just how badly open plan office design got it wrong. According to a survey by Savills in Britain, more than half of workers said that noise levels in their offices were intolerable and were interfering with their ability to do work.
Flexible Offices, Private Pods
Jeremy Myerson is a writer on office layout. He says that offices are changing and changing fast. The open plan office, he says, was reactive: it was a reaction against the rows upon rows of clerks that reduced workers to mere cogs in the wheel. Many of the changes that facilitated open plan were simple, like breaking up rows of desks by bringing them together. But the idea was never really about improving productivity. Rather, it was about improving the image of the company as a place to work and making workers feel a little more special.
Myerson says that the modern office is more flexible, with spaces or pods where employees can hunker down and get on with the job. This might explain why vendors like Arnold’s Office Furniture are expanding their offering of self-contained units. It turns out that staff would rather have the ability to escape the hustle and bustle of the office, knuckle down, and further their careers. That means having spaces where there is no eating, no talking and, crucially, no mobile phones.
Areas For Contemplation
Myerson is keen to point out, however, that we’re not looking at the return of row upon row of pods like we saw in the 1980s. It’s too dehumanizing. Instead, offices are becoming spaces with many functions. One of those functions is to provide colleagues with areas for contemplation. It’s a big trend right now, says Myerson. With the rising importance of creative thinking in the workplace, companies like Google, are trying to inspire their employees through office design. For instance, the Google offices in Zurich have an aquarium that staff can stare into while they cook up new ideas.
Businesses that can’t afford to install their own aquariums are looking for their own solutions to the contemplation problem. Lund University, for instance, envisages a chair that becomes it’s own private space, blocking the user off from the rest of the office on three sides.
Most experts agree that a homogeneous working environment isn’t good for employees. And so they’re learning from nature, copying the curved lines of trees and forests, and filling their offices with plants.
Work Pods Designed By Dymitr Malcew. Photo by Designmilk. License: CC BY-SA 2.0.