In a recent article by the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/30/google-got-it-wrong-the-open-office-trend-is-destroying-the-workplace/), Lindsey Kaufman takes on the trend of ditching the office cubicle for open-plan designs. In her well written article, she relates many of the common complaints that arise from losing personal space; from oblivious coworkers who are noise monsters to the social pressure of having a day long conversation about nothing She questions whether the cost savings, trendiness of the office culture, and apparent encouragement of team work is worth the cost of lower personal productivity.
I would argue that the type of environment that she experienced is one version of what open plan designs can accomplish. For example, I came across an organization that recently switched to activity based work. The company recently consolidated their office locations into a new building. Unlike Lindsey, employees had free reign to work anywhere in the office - if they felt like sitting with a group of marketing folks for the day, they went for it, even if they were in HR.
Each employee had a home zone which was their team's base, but that did not restrict them from working in the coffee bar, private reading areas, conference locations, or the BBQ deck (it was Australia after all). Armed with a swipe card and lightweight computer, they could print, search the web, or use AV equipment anywhere. Even with free snacks and the best technology money could buy, the cost per employee was cheaper than before. The office ran at 90% capacity, so that there was room to move around.
There are some concessions. First, employees were issued a locker to store their stuff overnight. Second, work was very visible to everyone and it would be hard to hide in this environment. Third, it did seem like you spent your working life stuck in an airport lounge.
What strikes me about all this is that companies are experimenting with the physical environment. Technology allows office workers to work anywhere and at any time, which has swung in favor of home working. But, I believe that there should be a physical place for employees to connect socially. The phone or video conference can only go so far in driving collaboration. The open plan office might not be ideal, but at least it recognizes that personal workplaces are not as necessary as they once were. The real challenge is to create a space that is actually fun to work in (not that I have anything against the airport lounge).
Blog Verdict: Not a Bad Practice