50PROFESSIONAL REPORT | SPRING EDITION 2014
Open office or open floor plan spaces were pioneered in the 1950s but not embraced till the late 1990s when technology companies born of dorm room brainstorming
moved into buildings. Their founders wanted to retain the laid back
collaborative power of common rooms and coffee shops when they
established their first headquarters, very often in non-traditional
spaces. Suburban flex buildings in the bay area of California
provided wide open spaces where tables, couches, skate boards and
basketball hoops thrived.
Since the early days of open office implementation, there has been
a loud and extensively published backlash against them. Everyone
from managers, to office workers, to psychologists have published
data proving that they reduce, not increase, productivity.
Most recently New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova wrote: “The
Open-Office Trap” ( http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/
currency/2014/01/ the-open-office-trap.html) which has been cited
thousands of times since early January as the definitive argument
against open office spaces.
Yet, open office floor plans are here to stay.
While the early proponents of open office were big tech guys:
Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. The Open Office plan is now
touted as critical for any business that benefits from a collaborative
David Salinas, Founder of Digital Surgeons, a digital marketing
agency with clients as diverse as United Technologies Corporation
and Barney’s New York, says “Cross pollination is definitely a
big plus for the open layout. An open floor also creates energy
which is always an unspoken benefit. Outsiders come in and feel
something very different than when they walk into a cubicle fest.”
In contrast to the traditional hierarchal office set up where
employees work toward a private office in the C-Suite, open
offices foster interaction among employees at all levels across all
departments as the next great idea could come from anywhere.
Philosophically, glass walls and no barriers between workers are a
physical representation of business transparency, which in a post
Occupy Wall Street world, is essential to the culture of forward
On the practical side open floor plans take advantage of the fact
that offices use and create far less paper than ever before. With the
advent of email, twitter, and social media in general, the behemoth
mail room is a thing of the past. File cabinets have been replaced
by the cloud, which has usurped the server room in many offices as
well. Floor space has been freed up for a Ping Pong table. With all
this extra space and fewer walls, open floor plans were supposed
to be big money savers. Shared desks and work tables reduced the
square footage required for each employee. Taking out cubes not
only humanized and personalized interactions, but saved on office
But, the noise, the distraction.
The open plans of the mid-2000s did not turn out to be a panacea
of productivity, engagement and happiness, as promised. But,
that has not diminished their allure. Today, roughly 70 percent of
offices are open plan. But, concerns about noise and distraction
have changed the way they are built-out and in the process
increased the cost of space fit-up and increased foot print sizes.
Tenants still demand “cool office space” with sustainable finishes
and open spaces, gyms, “play spaces” and walking desks, but
they also demand quiet. The latest in open office is demonstrated
by Coca-Cola’s new Columbian office spaces where plexi-glass
WHAT IS THE
BY: KRISTIN T. GEENT Y, SIOR