Offices and office design have taken a number of forms recently. The open-plan office with ping pong table included is probably the most well-known and the most easily associate with innovation, disruption and, of course, millennials. By removing spatial and social structures, this approach is typically intended to increase performance by fostering spontaneous interaction, fun, creativity and learning.
The impact of open office design is being studied by numerous researchers. Some state it impacts negatively on employee satisfaction, leading to loss of privacy, job dissatisfaction, impaired performance and increased labour control. Others focus on the “generative building” that stimulates open-ended use and spontaneous encounters between people from different organizational levels and areas.
As usually happens with trends, everybody thinks everybody is adopting the open-space-ping-pong-flex-Friday-millennial-friendly kind of workplace and FOMO attacks so they make huge efforts to actually become that kind of place. But the problem is right there. Companies believe you can “become” that kind of relaxed and flexible workplace where every Instagram story turns out to be beautiful just by moving or buying some nice furniture. The truth is you can’t force a change that you don’t actually believe in or that you are not prepared to undertake.
Something you hear a lot when you talk with people working in design and tech is “Google does it”. It’s the classic example of revolutionary easy going open-space office. However, as stated by the Google CEO Eric Schimidt, there is only a small part of Google that works like this: the areas where new ideas and innovations are developed.
Basically, Google and many other startups and companies that incorporated open space offices and video games and stuff back in 2014 actually did it with a clear purpose (or maybe not but who cares). A certain workplace promotes certain ideas, values and behaviors you need to take into account when you decide to become more flexible. In addition, you need to understand your employees. Will they feel confortable? Do they need more collaboration and interaction?
Once again, what’s important in order to decide whether to change your workplace or not is: is there a problem? What’s the problem? Why is this situation generated? How will open-space or flexibility impact on this problem? Can you test your hypotheses before jumping in? Also, remember changing furniture does not automatically make you more flexible. If you want to promote remote work, flexible work hours, fun and creativity and hire young people that may have other way of working, you'll have to work on changing the company's (and your!) mindset and trust your team. This takes time and tons of effort.