Balance and the Office Layout Debate

I came across an interesting article over the weekend titled, “The Rise of the New Groupthink“. While the article was not solely aimed at work environments, the author made sure to give plenty of space to them:

“SOME teamwork is fine and offers a fun, stimulating, useful way to exchange ideas, manage information and build trust.

But it’s one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it.”

The excerpt above made remember one of the things I hate about the Open vs. Closed debate; that everyone always talks in extremes and the importance of finding a balance. Many examples either have people who are either perpetually brainstorming in a big group or sitting all by their lonesome all day with no human interaction.

Both of those characterizations are stupid and useless except to bracket the area between them where the perfect office environment lies.

Question:Where is the magical place where office nirvana lies?
Answer: It is different for every company and is always changing.

It is obvious that some human interaction is necessary and that some work needs to be done alone. Understanding this and finding the correct balance for your company is the important thing.

Remember: Your employees aren’t the same employees that work at Apple or Google or Airbnb or even Bob’s Web Design. They have different things that motivate them, different ways they communicate best, different interpersonal dynamics, and different personalities.

If that means 50/50 between open and closed space, great. If that means 75/25, that’s wonderful too. The important part of office design is to find the right mix of elements that creates a successful team for your company’s particular needs.