One hundred years ago, the open plan office looked a lot like a classroom – low-level employees occupied desks arranged in straight rows across a huge open space. Private offices were reserved for managers, the biggest one for the boss.
These offices were also managed like classrooms. Bosses discouraged casual interaction during the workday and employees kept to themselves at their desks.
The 1960s saw a shift from this rigid office structure to a more organic form of the open plan office. Managers worked alongside their employees and desks were arranged strategically in clusters. This new plan was designed to promote communication, transparency and collaboration.
Research suggests that the cons perhaps outweigh the pros of the open plan, but no universally successful model has been established yet.
Today, the open plan office is a widely debated topic. Clear benefits and disadvantages of the layout certainly do exist.
The obvious benefits include the feeling of a collective mission among employees and the promotion of open communication and transparency. On a more personal level, open offices allow for a more laid-back, social environment and the ability to form meaningful bonds with fellow employees.
Equally as obvious are the disadvantages of noise and the lack of privacy and individual control that result from an office without walls. These factors can all easily contribute to decreased productivity.
What’s the key to building the perfect office environment?
The Integrity office is designed to reflect and enforce the philosophies by which we operate. We’re a holocratic organization, meaning every employee is his or her own boss.
“At Integrity, we believe in hiring for culture and personal character,” says Founder and CEO John Simanowitz, “then empowering everyone with choice.”
This empowerment carries over into the organization of our physical space. Our offices are part open plan and part walled offices, and it’s up to each one of us to decide where we’ll sit (or stand – we also decide whether a standing or sitting desk is best).
This works for Integrity on many levels. As individuals and as project teams, we benefit from the power of choice and flexibility. And as a company, we benefit from the productivity that our dynamic space fosters.
Many of the employees who occupy the small shared offices available are project managers or content strategists who spend a lot of time on the phone with clients.
“But people aren’t afraid of the offices,” says Project Manager Jamal McLaughlin. "The door is open when I'm not on a client call, but being able to close it when necessary ensures that nobody is disturbed."
Sometimes, a project team will take over an office. On a smaller scale project, a designer, developer and content strategist might make up the entire team. These small teams might decide that sharing a single office, separated from the bustle of the open floor, will be good for productivity.
On the other hand, a large-scale project might require additional support. Take our AvaStars team – with a dozen developers working together toward the same goal, using a portion of the open floor was the best solution. Collaboration and communication are much easier with everybody in one shared space.
A traditional company works from the top down to enforce policies intended to keep productivity at a maximum. But this traditional model assumes that employees are unqualified to make the best decisions for themselves, and for the modern knowledge worker this idea is absurd.
“The search for the perfect, cookie-cutter formula for creative performance itself destroys the flexibility required to make great decisions. We focus on getting the right people on the team, empowering them and getting out of their way,” says Simanowitz about Integrity. “The right individuals will work together to make the best decisions for the task at hand.”
Even when the task at hand is finding the right places for their desks. Integrity has discovered that the best way to promote creative productivity is to leave room for individual choice.
It’s a “people first, policy last” approach, says Simanowitz. And it’s pretty clear that Integrity’s dynamic floor plan, reflective of its unconventional management style, is fostering creativity, productivity and success every day.
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