There was a time when part of the ascent up the corporate ladder meant an office. Usually this meant a corner office with room for a meeting table and even a couch and chairs. Today, the best you can hope for is a deluxe workstation that is near a window and can accommodate enough space for a few people to sit.
In the not so distant past, people had between 500 and 700 square feet for an office. Today the new normal is less than 200 square feet for an office or a 5×6 square foot cube. That’s just enough room for a computer, phone and a few square inches of extra space for some personal artifacts. It’s particularly tough for the big and tall guy who looks like they are stepping into an elementary school sized chair. All this is done in an effort to increase creativity, collaboration and productivity. This is deemed the new way to work. Is that really it or just a new way to save on overhead (that’s a conversation for another time).
Not surprising, people adjust and figure out how to work in this new environment. I’ve experienced just about everything from an open office with rows of tables to a corner office with a view. What I found most interesting is the way people are embracing this environment that is more open (less private) and the spaces much tighter (you can hear your neighbor breathing).
What are the new norms that come with an open floor plan? I’ve experienced a few:
The hover: The person that sneaks up on you from behind and silently stands there until you register their uncomfortable presence and eyes boring down on the back of your head.
The invader: Whether you’re in the middle of something or not, they embrace the open door (or lack of door) policy and will barge right in to demand your attention.
The holler: With such low barriers people see it as appropriate to initiate conversations without leaving their cube. These conversations can be quick or full on protracted discussions.
The hoarder: The person whose hasn’t quite gotten with the program and still thinks they will get their office back. In defiance, they build a fortress of their stuff that causes an eyesore for the rest.
I have wondered something else. Does this new very open floor plan really lead to more collaboration or more creative ways not to be in the office? I do think it leads to more interaction. You’re all there to be seen. And that’s where I find the rub. The being seen part. I find what is happening is that more people (especially in a creative environment) find more ways to not be seen.
Has it gone to far? People need space; both mental and physical to work and think. It used to be that people would huddle in someone’s office to meet and do work. Now, there is a lack of boundaries. Yes, there are team rooms and open meeting areas but those are still challenging to really focus, to have conversations or to just clear your mind.
Therefore, it’s seems like people disappear more and find other places to work. In many cases this is out of the office. They’ll work from home, a coffee shop, an extended lunch or somewhere other than their work station.
I wonder if it does what it’s intended to do. In an effort to increase collaboration and teamwork, have we inadvertently created more distance and separation? Is this resulting in more creative ways for people to be out of the office thus decreasing one-to-one interaction?
I guess time will tell. Might we see a return to the office?