The Leader Magazine

JUN 2019

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th E l E ad E r JUNE 2019 21 the very nature of "work" has changed considerably in the intervening decades – a testament to the durability and flexibility of the open-office model when done right, in accordance with an organization's mission, values, and process. Wright's iconic design demonstrated that amplifying the human experience is not only desirable but also profit- able. Yet it is precisely what's lacking in the majority of today's open offices, an oversight that contributes to their poor performance. r oots of dissatisfaction The concept of openness is practically ubiquitous in contemporary environments: Libraries? Open. Restaurants? Open. Coffee houses? Open. Hotels? Open. Airports? Open. These non-office environments have become highly attractive places to work in – during which time we accept and even welcome the collateral noise and distraction as integral to the experience (after all, who wants to sit in an empty, lifeless restaurant?). Yet, when those same workers are forced to toil in a poorly implemented open office – one lacking choice and not conducive to mobil- ity – the collateral effects become highly objectionable. We are not energized by all the activity and noise; we are hobbled by it. The reputation of the open office, like that of the "cube farm" before it, has been legitimately sullied by spaces designed with spatial efficiency and cost reduction – rather than the interests, needs, and preferences of the end-user – as the primary drivers. a manifesto for open-office success Openness in and of itself is not the problem; the prob- lem is one of balance, choice, and agency – or, rather, their absence. Open offices are not bad by nature; they become bad by design when the motivations for their ap- plication are not aligned with the needs of the organization and their people they are intended to support. The following attributes are vital to the successful implementation of the open office (and notably lacking in the "bad copies"). 1. Regard for specific organizational needs Design solutions pertaining to the look, feel, and per- formance of a workspace should be based on a deep understanding of the organization's purpose, people, process, and culture. Armed with such an understand- ing, we often recommend open-office elements, either as a supporting or anchor element, as part of an ap- propriate end-state solution for our clients. 2. Support for staff mobility and choice Fixing knowledge workers in place, at their desks, in an open, un-differentiated environment is a prescrip- tion for unhappiness. Open offices should instead fea- ture a diversity of settings that support a range of work styles and that allow for on-the-fly changes by staff to meet shifting team and individual needs. Employees should be allowed to choose where to work at any given moment depending on the task at hand. Mobility for everyone should be enabled via integrated technol- ogy, company culture, and informed policy that allows people to move freely within and outside the office. These attributes are critical to organizational agility, speed to market, staff productivity and engagement – all core competitive differentiators. 3. Promotion of the human experience This makes sense as a bottom-line business practice. Rendering the meaning and purpose of work into tangible experiences for staff can create compelling destination workplaces that help attract and keep high-value employees. Considering that the average tenure for a 21st-century tech worker is less than two years, this is not inconsequential. 2 The 3-30-300 rule of thumb is a financially useful way to think about the value of human experience, putting into perspective the costs of workspace relative to that of people. The rule states that, per square foot, $3 is spent on utilities, $30 on rent, and $300 on employee costs (salaries, benefits, etc.). Mitigating costs on the first two pales in comparison to the potential impact of investing in the employee experience. Amenities and environ- ments that support life-stage needs, brand and culture, wellness, individualization, and accessibility are not frivolous afterthoughts. They are central to engaged, productive, and highly creative teams. Global economic and technological circumstances will ensure the open office remains the default approach to workplace design – despite much pop-cultural com- mentary to the contrary. With consumer-preference trends ever-shifting and businesses struggling to stay relevant, speed to market based on the ability to quickly and economically reform teams of innovators will become a dominant market advantage. No workplace model is better suited to the agility imperative than the open office ... when designed well. 1. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2017.0239 2. https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/trends-and-research/2018/the-3-industries-with-the-highest-turnover-rates James e . Truhan, MC r , is director of strategies for I a Interior a rchitects.

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