The sprawling corporate office has a lot in common with the compact office dwelling that only suits four to five people. After all, both must present a work environment that is ideal for the human resources that keep the needle moving on a daily basis. But what constitutes “ideal” varies greatly for tech companies, who are constantly challenged to boost productivity, maintain profitability, and retain top tier talent. It’s crazy because the same design trends that spark magic in one workplace setting can create absolute chaos in another.
Enter the Open Plan Debate
Open offices are probably the hottest thing going in office workspace design and tech companies are some of the biggest adopters. Ebay, Facebook, and Google are all on the bandwagon. Hence the name, the open plan concept aims to air things out by maximizing large open spaces and minimizing small enclosures. No more hiding behind the cubicle wall. There is a clear line of sight and sound from one end of the room to the other. As you’ve probably guessed, this comes with advantages and disadvantages.
The Open and Targeted Collaboration Workspace
The mastermind behind social gaming blockbusters such as FarmVille and CityVille, Zynga offers an inspiring example of the open plan done right. A trip to its San Francisco headquarters reveals a unique, energetic environment that emphasizes freedom and collaboration. The dynamic office building that sort of resembles a futuristic prison segments IT teams by project, so FarmVille and CityVille developers are set up in areas designed with features and resources specific to the games they’re responsible for.
The Open and Uninspired Workspace
Open offices may be popular, but that doesn’t mean they’re wholly embraced across the workplace. In fact, many critics loath the idea, hoping it is soon banished back to whatever wacky dimension from it hatched. The worst open plan office workspaces share the following annoyances:
Following are a few of several reasons open plan opponents feel the trend should be permanently shelved.
- Distractions: The workplace is unnervingly distracting when you can hear everyone talking, sneezing, coughing, and snacking on candy bars around you. This is an ongoing scene in some environments .
- No Privacy: Open workspaces offer no intimacy. There is little to nothing stopping employees from interrupting co-workers as they’re working, eating, or just trying to enjoy a shred of privacy.
- Limited flexibility: The open plan approach aims to exchange personalization for the sake of collaboration. As a result, employees are often unable to pin up personal pictures or make other customizations that allow them to work comfortably.
- Health and hygiene concerns: Sounds, smells, and germs spread quickly in open spaces. The potential for rapid virus propagation is actually one of the biggest concerns associated with this trend.
The Conventional Cubicle Workspace
According to an article published by Yahoo Finance, roughly 60 percent of Americans work in a cubicle of some sort – a staggering 93 percent of them hate it! This isn’t shocking considering that the open theory was essentially created as an answer to Cubicle Hell. Sure, there’s an inherited element of personalization here, but it’s tough to get anything done when your workspace is spilling into your neighbor’s and noise from the entire office is constantly invading your own. But while cubicles are globally viewed as torturous prison cells constructed by the Devil himself, some IT teams are making it work.
The Cubicle Workspace Re-imagined
LinkedIn is one of the best examples of a company thriving with cubicles. The social networking giant incorporated a clustered cubicle design for a workspace that went from supporting hundreds of employees to accommodating thousands following its IPO in 2011. Instead of being boxed in to a traditional square, each cubicle faces a center spine via connected workstations with wide angles on either side. Shielded with more space around them, employees have a greater sense of privacy and aren’t forced to uncomfortably stare at one another all day. Plus, they still have easy access to co-workers when collaboration calls.
The Workspace Outside the Box
IT-focused employers must think beyond the workstation in order to design a complete workplace that keeps employees motivated and thinking productivity whether they’re actually working or not. Twitter seems to have this down to a science. The master of micro-blogging has a lush garden situated on the roof of its headquarters in San Francisco, which employees retreat to on break for scenic views of the cityscape, conversation, and competitive games of Cornhole.
IT geeks gotta eat, but in Google World, constant collaboration is king. The search giant strategically integrated so-called “micro-kitchens” into various locations within its office buildings, hoping that team members will frequently bump into each other. These self-service cafeterias treat Googlers to a vast assortment of snacks, cereals, beverages, and other items they can enjoy without having to go out for lunch or spend a dime. This increasingly popular trend is an awesome example of how companies can think outside the box with workspace design strategies that keep workers engaged around the clock – the time clock, that is.
The best office workspace designs for IT can be found in smart, innovative approaches that address known shortcomings while focusing on specific company needs. Those who stick too closely to the script of one trend or another run the risk of leaving their tech guys terribly restricted.
Photo Credit: Sharat Ganapati via Flickr
Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary via Flickr