Translations Blog

Adam Stoltz

January 10, 2019

The idea of an open office layout has received its fair share of backlash recently, but I take as much issue with the nomenclature, as I do the design. What exactly is “open office”? Does an office become “open” as soon as anything other than fully enclosed spaces are incorporated? Or does “open office” exist only in the complete lack of enclosed spaces?

Using vague labels like “open” or “private” can unintentionally constrict a design team to the detriment of the client and its workforce. When any one party involved in designing a workplace fails to plan for flexibility, understand employee needs, or explore a range of layout options, the result will be a work environment that is less than ideal. Rather than trying to make a workplace fit a specific label or trend, businesses should focus on the pursuit of measured performance.

One of the key elements in measuring individual and group performance is employee time loss, or how much productive time a worker loses to a range of issues, and how frequently those issues occur. If, through intelligent and functional design, we can reduce the impact of issues inhibiting productivity, we have, effectively, returned productive time back to those employees.

Two measures tend to appear most often as negatively impacting someone’s ability to work productively: time lost due to distractions/noise, and time lost due to trying to find, contact, or get an answer from a colleague.

For a space to function effectively, it must be designed with visible awareness of and access to a mix of open and enclosed spaces, allowing employees to avoid distraction when necessary, as well as seamlessly interact with others when appropriate. The rhythm of work, and thus the environment in which it takes place, requires support for each goal at different points in time. Any workplace that fails to acknowledge this and provide the appropriate balance of open and enclosed, active and quiet space is destined to struggle.

In addition to the physical space, a workplace needs the appropriate technology to support the workflow and cultural practices of the company. Technology must not only enable employee mobility, it should support information-sharing in meeting rooms, open huddle areas, and other informal work zones equally well. This flexibility allows groups to use collaboration to overcome an issue or debate the most effective way to pursue an end result, and then return to the execution of their individual tasks.

There isn’t any single type of office design that “best” facilitates any certain industry or business. The key to effective workplace design is recognizing that it needs to be purpose-built based on an understanding of individual and organizational needs, the organization’s culture, workflows within the company, and how that organization can deliver products, programs, and services most effectively.

– By Adam Stoltz, National Director, Consulting Services, New York.