And how will you know?
We spend nearly a third of our lives at work, so shouldn’t we think about the environment in which we conduct that work? If not, we will continue to have our working environment imposed upon us.
It’s not just about comparing open-plan to private offices, either; there is much more to it than that. For example, how many different spaces have you worked in? Some traditional layouts are completely open, some split down into cubicles or a bull-pen; there are also team offices, individual offices or a mixture.
Nowadays, though, we talk about touch-down space, booths, team tables, collaborative space, coworking, etc. Some of the traditional spaces might be formal and highly regulated with direct supervision. The modern ideas are more likely to be informal with more remote or self management. Presumably, either types of space can be noisy or quiet, lively or dour, disciplined or lax.
Of course, these are just some of the physical, proximate options. What about connecting remotely to work and collaborate; Google Hangouts, Apple FaceTime, Microsoft Lync, conference phone calls and the like? These add a whole new dimension to the way we work.
A recent article highlighted some of the problems with open-plan, like exposure, insecurity and disrupted work patterns, for example. On the other hand private offices can be isolating, discourage knowledge-share and enforce hierarchies.
Another view, researched by IDA, is that enriched environments (art, plants, furnishings, etc) are always better than lean environments (utilitarian), but better still is an environment where we have a choice about the look and feel of that space. This suggests that even a seemingly great environment will not draw such good performance from its users if it is imposed upon them.
What’s best for you?
Well that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? How do you know, has anyone ever asked you or given you options? If you’re used to being employed in an office environment that is imposed upon you, you have some ideas about what might work best for you, but you may not have experienced it. I thought home-working would be great until I had to do it for four years, where I discovered I hated it (partly, of course, because it was imposed).
We all benefit from choice and even the best option may sour if it is the only option, day in and day out. For example, I now enjoy working from home because I do it only part of the time, when it suits me, whereas at other times I need to be with people and perhaps in a slightly more formal, energetic environment. Working to suit our preferences and the state of mind we are in is highly beneficial.
However, this isn’t just about our mood or energy levels; it is also about what tasks we are doing. We can’t work collaboratively on our own and we can’t do concentrated work with constant interruptions. There is an article here about the importance of privacy, which we all need from time to time; to focus, to work uninterrupted and to share only what we want to share. And, as for collaboration, it seems like an easy thing to provision, but this is an article on the complexity of the issue, which requires space to cater for private and public work, varying technology needs, facilities and security.
Chances are, if you had the choice about the way you worked, you would create something bespoke from the best bits you had experienced, even though you know that the seemingly perfect combination you ended up with is likely to throw up other, unforeseen problems. This, however, will lead to you experimenting and adapting until you get it right. Much better than having something imposed on you, surely.