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The open space office concept, though seems to have a modern sounding flair to it, has been around from many years. The first open spaces in modern times have been the factory floors during theindustrial revolution.

photo credit 48 photography by Udi Edni

Many things have changed since, and open spaces have become safer and more employee oriented. Yet things are far from being perfect in these spaces.

Recently theBBC  created a series about the open space concept in the work place. As we are at the midst (start?) of a technological revolution, it's time to rethink the open space concept, and free ourselves from the design paradigms that are damaging the work environment. Especially in the USA where the average open space employee suffers the harshest conditions in the western world. Office spaces in large US cities come at a premium, many companies want the best 'bang for their buck' options, overlooking the fact that employee wellbeing and happiness canhamper productivity . Many open spaces are so poorly planned they reflect badly on the brand of the company and the corporate identity. There are some, what I would call, cosmetic solutions (note not all cheap); there is the"pink noise" solution, some tall plants , or beautiful and costly furnishing options. None of them really touching upon some the core issues of the open space.

Having too much of an open space can generate an awkward silence, where one dare not even whisper to a co-worker for the fear of interrupting others, thus forever keeping THAT great idea with-in one's head. I'm not even going into the whole flu season issues, and how uncomfortable it would be to come to work with a stuffy nose. The lack of privacy creates for socially odd behaviors, sitting with bulky sound proof headphones for a good 8 hours is one I can think of.

photo credit Emily Neumann
photo credit Emily Neumann

Yet not all is evil in the world of the open space office, it allows for flexiblity, which can accommodate changing needs of a company. It breaks the molds of company hierarchy (that is if there are no corner offices to covet), that can allow for a free exchange of ideas. It's cheaper to have an open space office than costly and space guzzling build-outs. There are many initiatives of community open spaces, one can walks in and plugs into an open and free environment. I still fondly remember the open studios of the 10th floor atMassArt, where creativity literally was rolling on the floor. There are places like a news desk that would not function without an open space concept.

Open spaces need to be adapted to the need of the company, they can't be 'copy-pasted', they need to be flexible enough to allow different working styles, they must have some 'escape' zones where one feels free to huddle over a cup of coffee with a co-worker with out being shushed into shame.

When planning on getting your new office space a new shift in <cost of sqft per employee> has to be made to accommodate for these added spaces within the open space. A perfect example of creating such zones arecity parks, and centers.


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