Open Plan Alternatives: Ask Your People

I’ve heard from several people who have the power to make decisions about office space, but feel frustrated that they can’t find practical suggestions on what to do instead of an open plan.

Well, if you’re already open to the idea that open plan offices are not a panacea, but you don’t know what to do instead, here’s a surprisingly straight-forward suggestion: ask the people who work there.

Ask me.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my writings on office design, it’s that people who work in offices have strong opinions about how they’re designed. The only thing that holds them back from expressing their opinions is a sense of learned helplessness that comes from years and years of working in crappy offices and seeing that no one cares about improving the situation.

This point was buried in another post I wrote regarding open plans, but here it is again: No size fits all. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to consider the people who work for you as individuals with different wants and needs, because, well, they are.

Cubicle farm from 'Tron'

I’ll end on a quote from Peopleware, as I often do…

A common element that runs through all the patterns (both ours and Alexander’s) is reliance upon non-replicable formulas. No two people have to have exactly the same work space. … The texture and shape and organization of space are fascinating issues to the people who occupy that space. The space needs to be isomorphic to the work that goes on there. And people at all levels need to leave their mark on the workplace.