The second installment of the NEW NORMAL starts here. To understand what the future of the modern workplace will look like, it’s best to start with where it began: a history of the open office. We will start with a brief look at open offices as a design approach.
Today the Open Office concept is the standard for the design of a modern workplace. Clients like the uninterrupted views across vast column free areas. But, this is not a new concept. Throughout modern history the open office has existed. There are multiple examples of office spaces in the 1930’s thru the 1970’s where open space was the standard. “You’re not going to believe this, but the open office pre-dates cubicles. They ‘were invented by architects and designers who were trying to make the world a better place—who thought that to break down the social walls that divide people, you had to break down the real walls, too,’” says author George Musser of the Scientific American. And so that’s what designers did, they took down walls and opened up floor plans, allowing for uninterrupted visibility but also, opening the proverbial lines of communication between employees and employers.
But why does the Open Office Plan still exist today? It is my theory that there are a couple of issues that drove the concept. First, it had to do with communication. Many believe that it is more efficient to eliminate as many walls as possible so that staff working on projects together can communicate without having to leave one cubical or office to go to another to gain insight on the project.
A second major driver of the efficient Open Office Plan is the reduction in leased or owned space, therefore decreasing real estate cost to a company. This cost can account for 30% or more of the yearly operating expenses. Along with the impact of real estate costs on a company’s annual budget, the upfront cost of interior construction is burdensome.