These days it seems that the standard office cubicle is going the way of the dinosaur as companies attempt to modernize.
In 2004 BP turned a 10,000-square-foot office in Houston into a laboratory of sorts for the biggest trend in corporate layout since the dawn of the cubicle: an open-space floor plan.
While this does harken to the frontiering spirit of the American West, nary a buffalo roam in the wide-open spaces of BP’s modern office (well, that we know of).
The company’s WOW (Working Our Way) Project, was started in order to envision the next generation of office space – a move away from the hierarchical structure of formal offices and into a flatter organization that focuses on teamwork and the fluid exchange of ideas.
BP isn’t the only company tearing down (or at least lowering) walls. Tech companies like Google pioneered the movement to more free-flowing offices.
“We are seeing bigger common spaces, more places for collaborations,” John Hamilton, a designer with Grand Rapids, Mich.–based Steelcase, told executivetravelmagazine.com.
Rather than using the traditional conference room to hold meetings, now more informal check-ins can take place in common areas setup throughout the office.
Beyond the ability for employees to carry on conversations easier, there are more practical reasons for the demise of private offices and the shrinking of cubicles.
For one, as company’s scale back in the wake of lagging economy, they’re leasing smaller offices. Open floor plans are an efficient way to use the space.
Another reason is the proliferation of mobile technology. Large desks are no longer needed to house bulky computers and paper files.
“The presence of reliable wireless infrastructuring, longer battery life and lighter laptop computers, all of those technological advancements contribute to the dynamic of people working anywhere,” Jeff Harrison, brand manager for Haworth Inc. told the Holland Sentinel. “Where you work and when you work is not as important as the work you get done.”
And finally, open offices just look nicer – allowing more natural light to flow through the building and giving employees the impression that they have more space than a closed cubicle allows.
“I think fewer people are expecting offices these days,” planning analyst Jennifer Stanton told Acoustics.com. “It’s nice to have an office that literally encourages an open-door policy.”
Stanton said her biggest complaint about open layouts is that she has trouble concentrating.
She’s not the only one who is a little skeptical about the ability of open offices to promote productivity.
“Google doesn’t seem to think that private offices are valuable for technical staff. They’re wrong,” one former Google employee toldGigaom.com.
While open spaces can promote collaboration, they can also promote a lot of distracting conversation, which (and we’ll sure you’ll find this shocking) isn’t always work related.
Still, the trend doesn’t seem to be going away. Even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg adopted the concept, using a bullpen style setup in city hall.