Individual space versus shared space

Individual vs shared office spaceHuman conflict on the planet has always been about the rights of the individual versus the rights of the community.

In personal relationships, in business, in neighbourhoods and in politics, we constantly have to weigh up what we want versus what someone else wants.

It is a world of ongoing compromise to create social harmony ensuring that the needs of the individual and the needs of those around them are met.

Nowhere does this come into sharp focus more than in the places we work.

The debate between shared space and personal space at work has raged for decades.

The long-term trend is towards open-plan offices as business leaders attempt to both create a sense of team and save costs by having shared space.

Author Susan Cain has challenged the culture of ‘offices without walls’, claiming they are designed for extroverts where workers cannot escape the noise or gaze of co-workers.

“There’s nowhere to stop, to hide or to think. I believe open-plan actually stops us being as productive as we can be,” she says.

So what does this mean for your business centre, and can you successfully create a one-size-fits-all space?

Every person is unique and each has their own individual likes and dislikes, so in an ideal world a workplace environment will enable all personalities – from quiet introverts to the more outgoing types – to feel welcome and comfortable…

Space to think
Create free-to-use spaces with a whiteboard where employees can retreat, whether that’s to explore a new idea or to thrash out plans with colleagues.

Barriers
Provide the option to break large open-plan offices down by separating the room into smaller workspaces with the help of partitions or visual barriers.

Mixed space
Create different types of space where possible – such as a large communal area with tables or sofas to encourage collaboration. Or split a larger meeting room down to create small private zones for single occupancy.

While this all sounds good there are still strong advocates for open plan work spaces.

Architect Andrew Haner of New York says:

“I’ve done two large semi-open work floors in Manhattan in the past five years. One was low cubes with shared media walls in Knoll AutoStrata and the other was even more open with the Metro Topo office solution. Both were for a high-end cosmetics company.

“Getting buy-in at the staff level was difficult, but the general managers loved it in a tight economy because we were able to fit more headcount on a tight floor plate, saving the parent company a great deal of expense to house more workers in an attractive, productive environment.

“One big issue is acoustic. Keeping some level of audio privacy for calls or even just to think is difficult in any open plan.

“Still as an architect, I’ve usually worked in an open plan. I actually like it. A coworker on your team is only a wave away and it fosters collaboration to be able to pose a question to the room. Often a colleague would ask a question to anyone in earshot and get multiple ideas, starting a lively discussion.

“As we get more competitive in this economy, that kind of open collaboration fosters better ideas, a necessary component of succeeding in any field.”

Do you have any direct experience with open plan? What are the pros and cons in your experience? Please leave a comment below to foster the discussion.

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