For many individuals the office is somewhere you “go to” for work. There is a hierarchical structure with managers in offices along the windows, supervisors in larger workstations and employees in rows and rows of smaller standardized desks or cubicles.  Maximizing the use and minimizing the cost of real estate assets leads the way.  Office space is something to be managed and standardization is an easy way of achieving efficiency.  Strategic decisions are made by the managers, implemented by the supervisors, and completed by the workers which make this a successful strategy for the status quo.

For other, primarily those employing knowledge workers, we increasingly see the office not as a place one “goes to” but rather an instrument for communication and collaboration. A process where ideas and strategy can flow up and down an organization and team work is emphasized. The challenge is increasing interactions between individuals who may not normally interact.  The belief is that increased face to face communication accelerates decision making, improves moral, enhances productivity and expands creativity.  It has been shown that the best ideas are generated through informal conversation and the most creative concepts are not developed sitting alone in front of a monitor.

“…chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization—improves performance.”.

- Harvard Business Review

From a facilities viewpoint, the focus turns to “value” (maximizing employee engagement) as opposed to cost (maximizing building efficiency). Open office environments can be great for one organization, but detrimental for another. One can easily maintain privacy in a closed or semi-closed office while integrating collaborative and group areas to foster untapped innovation. While there is no “one size fits all” model, collaborative areas can include: cafes, informal break areas, refresh rooms and outdoor spaces – all of which are strategically designed in the overall space to foster employee engagement. These exchanges have been shown to improve productivity, increase innovation through the sharing of best practices and processes, and problem solve through collaboration.

Again, while not necessarily beneficial for all companies, this paradigm shifting approach to the office has been quite successful for many. It has proven to be a strategic advantage demonstrated through increased productivity, employee retention and increased revenues. Could it be right for your organization?