One of the more popular things floating around the internet this week is a new study showing that dinosaurs were already on the path to extinction some 40 million years before most of them bit the asteroid dust. The reason? A growing lack of biodiversity. (A review of the fossil record revealed that species were dying off faster than new ones were replacing them.)
All this extinction talk got us thinking about the lifecycle of design trends, specifically the question of whether there are any workspace design norms that are so taken for granted we may in fact be overlooking their initial signs of decline?
The open plan office certainly comes to mind.
The open office was first pioneered as “office landscaping” by German consultants Quickborner in the 1950s. Fast forward a half century and you’ll find that almost 70% of U.S. offices now have few to no partitions, the conventional wisdom being that the absence of walls foster camaraderie and spur collaboration among coworkers.
In recent years, a slew of critical articles like these from The Washington Post and The New Yorker have drawn attention to an unforeseen side effect of the open office revolution: people miss their privacy.
Take for example these findings from two major studies that furniture specialists Steelcase conducted with research firm IPSOS: only 11% of global workers are “very satisfied” with their work environments, and 95% of North American workers desire additional private space in the office.
So a lot of “open offices” actually do include a significant portion of private space for workers to take advantage of, like quiet nooks, lounges, and sound absorbing work pods. That being said, any office with a workforce of 500 people probably doesn’t also have 500 reservable conference rooms.
We’ve got a few suggestions for creating a little DIY privacy in the middle of an open office:
1. Noise Cancelling Headphones: One of the main factors that amplifies a lack of privacy for open office workers is the inability to filter out irrelevant speech. Studies show that too much background noise can increase mental workload and impair memory function. Scoop yourself some noise cancelling headphones for when you really need to get in the zone.
3. Fake It Til’ You Make It: A little repositioning can go a long way. Strategically arrange a few bookshelves around a workstation, thus creating a makeshift “private” zone that coworkers can share. You’ll be surprised how well they absorb sound, and you’ll find the perception of enhanced privacy is almost as good as the real thing.
Step inside Sandbox Industries for an open, collaborative space that strikes the perfect balance.