Case studies

Open plans are evil

I work inside a large corporation. Even so, we’re quite lucky that our little corner of the company – despite being the biggest national web brand – is not at any rate heavily incorporated.

We enjoy a certain amount of freedom to be creative – inside certain borders, obviously. But still, there are certain corportation practices that – it seems – can’t be avoided and end up in the way. Like, say, middle management.

But anyway, that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about the open plan. It seems big companies love the open plan or its evil twin – the cubicle open plan.

Both are really terrible ideas and were probably designed by someone with a cushy office space, unconcerned with problems of privacy, space and comfort.

I understand that in a space where lots of people have to work, it’s impossible to build individual offices for every single person. I also know that if everyone had an office, very few people would ever get to see a window, and people would become isolated or prone to lazyness without supervision.

But the solution does not have to be closed office spaces. I believe people can be organized into teams and put together, in smaller groups, in large-ish rooms. Ten people to a room isn’t too much and allows for everything an open space provides with the advantages of a bit more privacy, a bit more comfort and – surprisingly – a bit more contact between co-workers.

In an open space type of arrangement, where 50 or 60 people work in close proximity there is a tendency for people to be extra quiet, for the simple reason that if you talk you might be disturbing 50 or 60 people, some of which don’t even share the same profession as you. In a smaller room, where your team lives, you have an easier time communicating with the people in it and when you talk, chances are, the people in your team might not be totally uninterested in what you’re saying.

Better team roles are created – people understand better who, inside the team, is better at what – and thus, people learn to better collaborate.

For a while now, I’ve been working for a special project inside the company and have been in such a room for almost two years. And it’s paid off big time. The people in the project are in constant contact, we know each other well and the work flows a lot more seamlessly between – for example – me, the designer, and the lead programmer.

For quite some time, I’ve nurtered the idea that the deisgn team at where I work – which these days isn’t so much a team as a bunch of designers, quietly mousing away in the open plan (except for me, the lucky bastard) – should be moved to a room on its own. The designers room could, potentially, lead to a cool, creative atmosphere, where we could exchange ideas, learn and teach each other and be generally more “designy”, than it’ll ever be possible in that ugly, impersonal, evil open plan.

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