I Hate Open-Office Plans and You Should Too: Part Two

We’ve already confirmed that open offices stink. But here at Beneplace, we never want to address a problem without proposing a solution, so we’ve researched three ways to open and modernize your workplace without resorting to an open office. Every organization has its own unique needs when it comes to office design, which is why this list offers options that are easy to adapt and adjust.

1. Create Areas for Voluntary Socializing

Part of the problem with open offices is that they cause people to cut themselves off from surrounding chatter or socialization, usually with noise-canceling headphones, to get their work done.1 Workers from different departments almost never talk to each other. Overall interaction actually goes down. Steve Jobs noticed this problem when he headed Pixar, so he tried something else when planning the new office.2

The Pixar offices had sections with five or six individual offices and a casual meeting area in the center. Jobs also added an atrium, with a post office and gym, in the center of the building, so people from different departments would have a chance to connect with each other outside of their official work environment. While this may not be an option for everyone, creating spaces where people interact naturally can help you develop a collaborative workplace.

2. Embrace the Eudaimonia Machine

The Eudaimonia Machine is an office layout with five units: the Gallery, Salon, Library, Office, and Chamber.3 Each unit has its own purpose. Employees would use the Salon for more casual work and interaction (Read: it’s where the coffee is). With soundproof walls, the Chamber is a do-not-interrupt-me-unless-you’re-on-fire space for serious work that requires quiet concentration.4 By designating sections for specific kinds of work, you can make inner-office communication and expectations clearer.

3. Adjust Designs for Different Departments

People in sales or customer service needs to collaborate and work socially more often than people in a field that requires heavy writing or math. Adjust accordingly. For collaboration-heavy teams, make sure common tables or meeting areas are easily accessible. No matter how noisy a department might be, however, make sure to provide everyone with a quiet space to hunker down and focus if needed.5

Atriums and the Eudaimonia Machine can seem a little too much for an average office, but they’re only a handful of many ways to make a work environment pleasant and productive. You don’t have to choose between a depressing cubicle layout and one long table that makes all your employees hate each other and their jobs. Office designs that adjust to the needs of different departments and include quiet spaces don’t need to be expensive or abstract to help you develop a space conducive to collaboration and efficiency.

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1. John Tierney, “From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz,” New York Times, May 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/20/science/when-buzz-at-your-cubicle-is-too-loud-for-work.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&module=inline.
2. Geoffrey James, “Steve Jobs’s Alternative to the Open-Plan Office,” Inc., August 29, 2018, https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/steve-jobs-alternative-to-open-plan-office.html.
3. John Rampton, “Facebook’s Utopia, Our Nightmare: Open Offices Are Destroying Productivity,” Entrepreneur, May 15, 2018, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/313034.
4. Blog Team, “How Cal Newport’s Deep Work Concept Will Influence Office Design,” Strong Project (blog), January 28, 2016, https://blog.strongproject.com/how-cal-newports-deep-work-concept-will-influence-office-design/.
5. Dawn Calleja, “The Problem with Open-Plan Offices (and How to Fix it),” Azure, July 25, 2018, https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/open-plan-office-problems/.