The open office design is dead. That’s according to the designers of offices for big corporates such as Google and Microsoft. The COVID pandemic has caused a major re-think of office design and how people best function in office settings.
Many workers have found open offices less than ideal workplaces. According to an article in FastCompany, apart from being noisy they reinforce sexist behaviour and make people leave their jobs.
The three design typologies in the article indicate good circulation spaces, but there is little in these designs that indicate inclusive design principles. For some people, working from home is still the optimum if office design and office culture do not make them welcome. However, these designs offer space to move around and interact with fellow workers rather than being tucked away in a nook.
The Library is an open floor plan with large working tables, individual nooks and comfortable chairs. Rather like an airport business lounge.
The Plaza is a kitchen and lunchroom space and encourages social activity. This is the part that people miss by working from home. It might encourage people back to the office.
The Avenue is, as the name suggests, a place for chance interaction with tables and stools and little nooks.
The title of the article is, These architects popularized the open office. Now they say ‘the open office is dead’.
Open plan offices: what’s the verdict?
The debate about whether open plan offices make good places to work continues. A team of Harvard researchers found that they weren’t. But it seems they were looking at the extreme of open plan offices, and poorly designed at that.
In defense of open plan design, architect Ashley L Dunn argues that the Harvard study chose offices where there were no partitions and no separate meeting rooms or places for private conversations. These are elements that make open plan effective. You can read more from Dunn in the FastCompany article. By chance, most open plan designs end up being more accessible for people using wheeled mobility devices. Toilets and staff rooms might be another matter though.
What about accessibility?
It would be good to see an article such as this also tackle issues of inclusion and accessibility in office design, particularly for people who for example, are deaf or hard of hearing, have back pain, or have low vision. Some solutions are simple such as moving clutter from walkways. The video below from the Rick Hansen Foundation shows how simple things make a big difference – it doesn’t have to be perfect.