Before we go into the individual concepts, it is worth taking a look at the background. Since the 16th century, the planning and distribution of office spaces are based on the cell offices of the Florentine Uffizi. In the meantime, this concept is outdated in many industrialized countries, as it is intended to promote hierarchy and bureaucracy, make communication and cooperation more difficult and spatially very inflexible. In Germany, however, cell offices are still one of the most popular forms of office where workers enjoy more privacy, peace and quiet.
Ironically, the Uffizi Gallery can also be considered as birthplace of open-plan offices. The Florentine banks had large halls in addition to the cell offices for the management. Here all routine tasks were done as efficient as possible – that was the only thing that was required or wanted by the workers. The reason they sat in a large open space is still one of the main arguments in favor of a large office: it is much cheaper. But the tasks and demands of the employees changed. In the mid-twentieth century, they were finally seen not only as a "cheap worker", but increasingly as a "knowledge worker" who would bring their knowledge and potential to the company.
The breakthrough in the office
The idea of an open office (in a modern sense) started to be subject of discussion around 1960 in Germany. The "office landscape", developed in Hamburg, was created to generate a new spatial structure with short communication channels, which should facilitate the flow of ideas and interdepartmental cooperation. The concept was more and more popular and spread across countries, from engineering firms and think tanks to other branches of business.
Today, about 70% of US offices have open office space. And the trend of an open workplace design goes a few steps further. Corporations like Google and Yahoo have "opened" their structures and spaces even further and are banking on a free choice of workplace without fixed rooms and tables. Nothing should stand in the way of growing collaboration, organic communication and the resulting creation. The other advantages of open offices are obvious. If you have a problem, the team leader, or someone with the right solution, sits just a few steps further. Short express briefings or brainstorming sessions can be held directly at the workplace without much organizational effort. And they are always up to date on important information, for example latest project developments or the latest gossip. But since the introduction of open office concepts, the resistance against them is also provoking.
One size that does not really suit anyone
With the progressive spread of open office concepts, more critical voices were heard. Yes, the advantages mentioned above were unmistakably and noticeably implemented. But they also involve an increasing noise level. According to Steelcase and Ipsos' Global Reports 2016 study, employees in open-plan offices are distracted every three minutes and interrupted about every eleven minutes. On average, it takes about 8 to 23 minutes before they can concentrate fully on the task. There are numerous studies in which the interviewed employees complain about a higher level of stress, lack of control over their environment and difficulty concentrating.
The lack of environmental control includes, above all, the inability to make a real impact on light and temperature. Anyone who has ever opened a window in an open-plan office can sing a song of it. Anyone working in a room with many colleagues has to put aside a few individual needs. The data and analysis expert Nicole Millard summed it up with an apt phrase: "The problem with open-plan offices is that they are a consistent size model that does not really suit anyone." Probably the most famous quote, however, was provided by Johny Srouji, the head of processor development of Apple, when he saw the plans for the new open-plan offices of the new Apple Campus: "Fuck that, fuck you, fuck this, this is bullshit".
The room in the room
Many experts believe the future of offices lies in a hybrid concept - a spatial planning that accommodates both single, as well as large office or group offices. With retreats that allow a quiet and individual working environment without taking up much space. And yet, these focus spaces have long existed in all sizes and variations.
A leading supplier in this field is Steelcase. For the development of their "Quiet Spaces" product line, they have teamed up with Susan Cain (author of "Still: The Importance of Introverts in a Loud World"). She estimates that 30% to 50% of the population are introverted and work much more productively in an environment that provides them with the necessary opportunities for concentration and retreat. But also extroverted personalities, will appreciate the advantages of these products.
But what are they characterized by? The requirements of the "Quiet Spaces" series can also be transferred to the competing products:
• The freedom to be alone and to be able to concentrate without distraction from the stimulating working environment
• The control of elements of the workspace
• Sensory Balance: the ability to influence the sensory stimuli
• The feeling of security: not being seen and not having to see others.
• Inspirations in product form
• Since space in the office is often tight, we start with the products that have the smallest m2 surface.
• The Telephone Booth - the ideal place to hold important or confidential conversations in peace. Depending on the manufacturer and equipment, they may have integrated light, ventilation, and power and USB ports. The trick: the walls are writable!
• Mobile Work Lounge - designed by Steelcase, this version acts as a protective cocoon against the visual distractions of the office. The adjustable seat and work surface adapt to the needs of the user. The highlight: the seat is heated!
• The think tank - the so-called think tanks are the face and backbone of the focus spaces. You have a self-contained ventilation, electrical and all necessary connections. They are available in different sizes and a number of equipment variants and can be quickly assemble and disassemble. They have good soundproofing and space for several people. The main advantages: all elements are flexible and can be planned down to the smallest detail!
• The Meetingbox - the perfect retreat for you and your team. Here everyone can think, discuss and work in peace without blocking a conference room for 15 people. The coronation: it is an independent, compact equivalent of the coveted meeting room!
• Many of these retreats are mobile or can easily be integrated into existing spatial planning. These are innovative products that not only provide executives with the necessary rest, concentration and production space that the open-plan office can not give them. And whatever the future of the office may be, they will certainly be an important part of it.
Text: Oleg Farber
Pictures: Office Snapshots