How to make open office work for both employees and the company
There is an interesting blogpost in The New Yorker where Maria Konnikova concludes that most open office environments are a failure. I share her conclusion in general, but there are ways to overcome the disadvantages of the open office! And if you can do that, there is potential for creating organizations that are far superior from what we know of today.
Here are two references, which will give you food for thought:
- UNBOSS (2012), outlines how organizations can achieve greater impact, higher growth and happier employees by defining a clear purpose and involving stakeholders (including employees) while applying a new concept for a knowledge-based organization, which has open offices and transparent communications as a prominent feature. www.unboss.com
- Revolution at Oticon A/S – a Harvard case Study which remains one of the most studied business cases in the world. The Spaghetti organization has open offices as a prominent feature.
The Oticon’s “spaghetti” organization has been featured in thousands of books and articles including Tom Peters Liberation Management. More references can be found at
The key to making an open office work for both employees and the company are:
- Design the physical environment carefully, taking into account acoustics, visual factors and indoor climate.
- Design the office layout carefully to reflect the working styles that you want to promote, and include space for both individual and group work in both silent and less silent environments.
- Design the meeting facilities so that they encourage the behaviour you want to see. At Oticon the tables were removed from most meeting rooms and there were numerous spaces for informal stadn-up meetings – of course separate from working areas to avoid people being disturbed.
- Install a working culture where employees understand an gain ownership of the rules needed to make the open office function. My experience is that open offices will only work if employees understand WHY they work in an open office and WHY certain working styles are to be preferred.
Intelligently designed open offices are great! Open offices just for the sake of open offices are a nuisence!
Comments very welcome…