Open Office Spaces: Collaborative or Crappy?

Ann All

Turns out my employer was years ahead of its time when I worked for a small southern Indiana daily newspaper. The entire staff toiled in a single large open room. People were shoved into every crevice. It was dirty, cluttered, and yes, smoky (thanks to a sportswriter's two-pack-a-day habit).


Now Microsoft is adopting a similar open layout (minus the dirt and smoke, I presume) for some of its new office spaces, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Such designs are thought to promote collaboration, enhance communication and offer easier access to executives. Heck, say designers, with today's workers using laptops, mobile phones and other smaller devices, they don't really need individual cubicles to house their gear.


IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle wrote about these so-called super-cubicles back in September. His take:

How about if we put a whole bunch of employees in one big cubicle along with their manager? That way, we can combine the things we hated about the office before the '60s with the things we hated ever since, and create something that you wouldn't even want to think about stepping in, or into.

Like the Post-Intelligencer columnist, Enderle thinks the super-cubicle concept may be a sneaky way for companies to encourage employees to telecommute.


I work in a sort of super-cubicle layout, as described (and bonus, pictured) by IT Business Edge blogger Ken-Hardin in his earlier commentary on the subject. I also usually work from home a couple days a week. While I find it easier to crank out copy at my home office, it's not because I find my coworkers noisy and/or annoying. I just find it easier to roll out of bed and get right down to writing at home.


My few complaints about my work environment relate less to privacy and more to temperature and lighting limitations in the restored historic building in which we work. (Although I should note that I find it easier to tune out chatter because of my aforementioned newsroom past.)


Like Ken, I think cubicles have become a convenient whipping-boy for all that ails corporate America and, in a broader sense, for all that is impersonal in today's society. He writes:

... cubicles don't make your manager stupid, and they don't make your pay scale stink. They don't dismiss your ideas and promote tenure over competence.

Yet in light of the tight labor market and need to retain top workers, companies may want to at least gauge employee opinion before investing big in the super-cubicle concept. Lack of private office space was one of the alleged downsides of working at Google mentioned in a leaked internal memo that circulated around the Internet earlier this year.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 21, 2007 2:21 PM Roy Roy  says:
What's amazing about these discussions is that seldom the different needs of employees are taken into account.The usual pattern is that the most extravert employee gets promoted out of the large office space into a small office, while the introverted employee remains in the large open (and often too noisy) space. In this way, everyone gets punished instead of rewarded. It also means that the business value that employees can bring to the work floor gets distroyed.It is time that companies start focussing on building and utilizing potential business value instead of destroying it. Mankind claims to be better than the animal kingdom, but especially in the wild animal kingdom we can find ideas that may lead us the way. The one that is best suited for a job is the one assigned to it. You can see this within large organisations such as ant hills, termite hills, or bee hives, but also with the hunting cheetah that actually improves the survivability of the impala herd (by reducing the limiting factor).This is not to say that we should blindly remove an employee that seems a limiting factor. By actually rising to our potential, we as managers should aim to remove those factors that limit our people and help them to find their source of motivation and encourage them to follow it. If this means that this employee is better of leaving the company, we can be sure that (s)he will leave with a positive opinion and help us find the people that belong to our companies. On the other hand, it could also mean that we need to expand the mission/vision of our company to include those areas that could give this employee the opportunity to blossom ... and our companies along with it.So let's start focussing on optimally using all potentials instead of finding some general solution that will fit some, but will limit others. Reply
Sep 10, 2009 2:38 PM Maximising office space Maximising office space  says:

Nowadays mostly peoples are doing the same, they are hiring one large room and using it as a office, But they shouldn't do this because it doesn't provide a good environment to the workers, they should expand their offices.


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