When you think about open plan offices, you probably think of media companies, architecture firms, or advertising agencies — basically, any place where the need for collaboration and creativity make a lot of walls and closed doors a bad idea. But some of the newest industries to embrace open office designs are very different from our usual image of the cubicle-free work environment. For example:
1. Law Firms
Long a bastion of private offices, the law industry is embracing the modern, more open work space. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described the move as a way to cut real estate expenses during tough times. And then, there’s the fact that maybe all those lawyers didn’t really need oodles of space to begin with.
“A lot of us have too much space,” said Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner for Paul Hastings LLP, a law firm that’s planning to embrace a more open office plan. “It’s such a big line item,” he said. “It’s a natural place to look for efficiency.”
When the Mayor of New York City doesn’t have a private office, you know that times are changing. Against much opposition, Mayor Bloomberg adopted a bullpen-style design at City Hall. The office is said to resemble a Wall Street trading floor, and is supposed to promote accessibility — something government officials aren’t always known for craving.
“Walls are barriers, and my job is to remove them,” said Bloomberg.
3. Human Resources Departments
This was the biggest shocker for us. Even in the open plan offices we’ve worked in, the human resources person usually has his or her own office, for obvious reasons. (Hard to lodge a complaint/discuss your medical issues/negotiate starting salaries when you’re sitting right out in the middle of the office with everyone listening to your business.) This forum for HR professionals has a thread going back to 2009 that indicates that more and more people in that field are working in offices that are almost entirely open.
Although many folks on the thread complained about the lack of privacy, some felt that the open environment actually helped their jobs. Poster Usman listed a few benefits, including, the fact that “you are working ‘with’ your clients. You hear what is said, you can observe body language and most importantly, people can observe you working … [and] you are accessible and there is no real barrier between you and your clients.”
He conceded, however, that privacy and workflow could be issues for HR pros working in open plan offices.