Google has got it wrong apparently. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the open office trend is destroying the work place and what is needed are more walls rather than less. It was a good piece yet short on supporting evidence and seems to have been based entirely upon the experiences of the author. I’m not sure why Google was picked on either as it had little to do with the content but presumably has been held up as a bastion of modernity.
The author has fallen into a trap, as have her employers. Businesses are not about buildings. Businesses are built by people for the benefit of people and all talk of walls, desks and plans detracts from their essential purpose. Yes, I know that all, or rather nearly all businesses need some type of edifice in which to work yet that is the point. The building from which you operate is just another business tool, like the machinery and computer systems. It needs to meet the needs of what you do as an organisation.
You may have noticed that not all businesses are the same and so why would we assume that all can operate in the same type of building arrangements. Anyone who has ever worked will know that the world is filled with different people with differing needs and differing workstyles. What a modern office environment needs therefore is flexibility to adopt, adapt to and accommodate the varying needs of its people, but these need to fit in with the purpose of the organisation.
You will need quiet space, you will need private areas and you will need freeform areas where people can come together. Above all though you will need an environment which allows the people to be creative, productive and deliver whatever it is that you do for the customer.
Please can we stop fixating about the buildings? They are only important either as a tool or a statement of your intent. Only banks, art galleries, and parliaments really need to worry about how their building looks. It doesn’t matter whether you have bean bags or a slide or the walls are all painted in different colours. It also doesn’t matter what Google or Facebook or for that matter the local butcher is doing. It is your problems that you need to solve. It is your opportunities that you need to realise and it is your people that need to deliver.
Remember that if you are office based then you only do three types of work, that which you do for the customer, that you do with your team and that you can do by yourself. If you are working with the customer then go and sit with the customer. If you are working with the team then be amongst them and if you are doing stuff by yourself well then pick the place where you are most effective, in the pub, at home, on the beach or in an open plan office.
We are all grown up people. We can work it out for ourselves.