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Insights from our Workplace Salon in Boston


When you gather a group of bright individuals in a room, it often leads to great conversation and insight. That was the case at our most recent Workplace Salon held last week in Boston. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

The term “open landscape” gets a bad rap

There is a usually a bad connotation around the term “open landscape.”  The open plan isn’t new; it’s been around since the early 20th century, with the original intention to “liberate” the office worker.   From the 60s and up until recently, we often related this notion to the comic Dilbert or film Office Space.  We are now in a time where we are going back to liberating the office worker, where there is choice in your workspace.

Change is good

This came from a discussion about one company’s unwritten policy of relocating their employees within the office frequently.  Moving seats can often be seen as a burden, but it can actually increase employee engagement.   Typically when you sit within an area of an office you get to know the people around you really well, and less so with the people who sit on the other side of the office, or on another floor.  Changing seats creates an opportunity to get to know more people, and when you know more people you feel a stronger connection to the workplace and you build camaraderie.  And as a bonus, there is less need for hierarchy — thus, you now may have a principal sitting in the same seat that the intern was sitting in last week.

Increased visibility = increased employee morale

Many employees in their early 30s and younger have never sat in a traditional cubicle: 63” high panels, beige or grey, corner desk layout.  Taller partitions or private offices make them feel disconnected — they  want to see their colleagues, have access to daylight and views.  We are moving away from the traditional rectilinear design that was maximizing real estate to designing space that maximizes “collisions” and creates moments of serendipity.

Measuring productivity

For some, productivity is easy to measure using key performance indicators.  For the knowledge worker it can be more difficult, but not impossible.  You can start to look at the billable hours, project success, and use technology to measure interactions.  We discussed one individual from MIT, Ben Waber, who started Sociometric Solutions in which they “analyze communication patterns with social sensing technology.”

The next 20 years

We predict the next 20 years will be all about technology — screens,  smart surfaces, sharing of information.  You can look at classrooms and see how they are using technology to learn, and how spaces are designed for students to work together.  In many of today’s classrooms, the teacher stands in the center of the room, with multiple screens around the perimeter.  You watch or listen to the lecturer outside of the classroom and then come to the classroom for group work, collaboration, and hands-on learning.

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| By Jamie Feuerborn

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“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot