Trendy Modern Offices: Productivity Boom or Bust? Can Wide-Open Spaces Solve Workplace Productivity? Are Free-Range Offices the Answer to Workplace Productivity?

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Google the word “millennial” and you’ll be greeted by all sorts of workplace stereotypes. The younger generation isn’t content with the cubes of yesteryear. They expect ping-pong, office dogs and cushy bean bag chairs. Millennials want work spaces that feel like home. And cutting-edge companies are responding accordingly.

Google has nap pods and Amazon has a bubble-shaped greenhouse. Kickstarter boasts a rooftop garden and Lego features a two-story slide.

While proponents of these vibrant, colorful and open offices say they foster creativity, collaboration and employee morale, critics worry these perks are ruining work. So, who’s right? Do modern offices help or hurt productivity?

Don’t Fence Me In

Surprisingly, millennials aren’t the generation that’s overjoyed about curbing the cube. My consulting firm, Consequent, recently conducted a survey of 1,200 working professionals and discovered that 30- to 44-year-olds enjoyed modern, open-offices the most.

Sandwiched between 80s cubes and the 2000s start-up culture, it’s no surprise this unconventional age group loves free-range offices. Encompassing Generation X and older millennials (xennials), both generations are known for their unconventional thinking. These office rebels reported satisfaction rates of 72 percent at open offices, compared to just 64 percent at traditional offices.

Meanwhile, younger millennials and Gen Z workers, aged 18 to 29, preferred modern offices by only three points — 68 percent to 65 percent — the same margin as workers aged 44 to 60. As expected, traditional boomers aged 60 and older preferred modern offices to traditional ones by just one percentage point.

Room to Roam

If trend-loving millennials are almost as happy in offices without beer and ping-pong, then who are open offices for?

When it comes to workplace design, nothing is as reviled as the cubicle. Designed by office giant Herman Miller in 1967, these partitions gained popularity as a low-cost solution for worker privacy — a faux corner office. But rows of cubes gave offices a uniform blandness that echoed the assembly lines of yesteryear. Workers felt like cogs in a machine, and the result was widespread alienation.

With the cube-tastophe in mind, designers and executives have sought to create a new kind of office. A hopeful place with wide-open spaces. Rows of desks neatly arranged in pods. This world without walls would enhance transparency, team morale and — most importantly — cross-functional collaboration.

The Jury is Out

Nearly 70 percent of Americans now work in open offices, but are these spaces really improving employee happiness, workplace productivity and cross-functional collaboration?

One recent study  found that workers in open offices were 20 percent less stressed and enjoyed 32 percent more physical activity than those in cubes or solo offices. However, another study, published by Havard found that two Fortune 500s transitioning to open spaces experienced 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions and 50 percent more emails and texts. These spaces became less productive and less collaborative.

Open office opponents claim the trend is a cost-cutting measure masquerading as a productivity enhancement. And some workers rail about the lack of privacy — making up for it by walling themselves off from coworkers through headphones and oversized screens.

A New Way to Work

While cubes can be alienating and open spaces may be overstimulating, the success or failure of an open office is largely dependent on place identity  — how workers feel about a space.

When place identity is high, workers are more engaged, more collaborative and more connected to their companies. The most successful spaces reflect the values and work a company does. Companies that provided a mix of spaces — open desks, private work spots and creative collaboration spaces — help workers feel like their workspaces are “theirs.” They reflect who they are.

Adaptable workplaces designed for collaboration, creativity and communication enjoy more place identity than redesigns undertaken as cost-cutting measures.

Office Isn’t Everything

We’ve come a long way from the nameless, faceless factories of the industrial age. Today, many workers spend their days in bright, sunny space where they feel free to be themselves. But when it comes to forging strong, cross-functional teams — actually getting work done — office layout doesn’t matter all that much.

Consistent with the principles of velocity, organizations need to be traditional enough to produce a well-functioning organization, yet virtual enough to compete anywhere in the world at any time.

The success of cross-functional projects has more to do with the way teams work than where they work. Teamwork rises to the next level when meetings are sparing but meaningful, and the right people get involved in projects at the right time. To learn more about increasing your office momentum, contact us to see what The Velocity Advantage can do for you.


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