Discussion: View Thread

  • 1.  Management fad gone wrong: open-plan offices

    Posted 03-27-2019 11:09 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-27-2019 11:08 AM
    The facts are in: An open-plan office plan just doesn't work. According to <g class="gr_ gr_369 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="369" data-gr-id="369">latest</g> research, they decrease productivity and collaboration to the point that it makes more sense (for both employees and employers) to have everyone work from home at least some of the time. 

    Do you agree with the article based on your own experiences? Why do you think this office environment is still so prevalent within A/E/C? If you've worked both in open-plans and plans with more privacy, which worked best for you and why? 

    Stephanie Slocum P.E.
    Engineers Rising LLC


  • 2.  RE: Management fad gone wrong: open-plan offices

    Posted 03-28-2019 11:28 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-28-2019 11:28 AM
    After reading the article, I have two things to say:
    1. I agree with the concept that more collaboration gets done in an open office.  This is because it is easier to converse with those around you, some of which may actually be working on the same project.  (This is highly collaborative.)
    2. I agree that efficiencies with respect to getting the work done are lessened in an open office.  This is because it is easier to converse with those around you, only some of which are actually working on the same project. (This is highly distracting.)

    I must say, that in organizations that have clean desk policies due to security or confidentiality that open office works well to ensure that people do not leave a bunch of work related documents on the desk.  And where the whole group is working on one creative project, open concept works for the time they are working on the project.  There are very few situations where that works over the long-term.  The other design element that generally that accompanies open concept is "quiet spots" located around the work area for people working on something that requires deep concentration.  Quiet spots work when they are not staked out by the same person for the whole day.  Open concept also causes people to find ways to record most of their notes on the computer, which for most of us is a very good thing to be forced to do.

    After the collaboration gets done, the work needs to be implemented.  This is about a 1:20 ratio.  In other words if you talk about something for 5 minutes related to a project, then it takes about 1.5 hours to do the calculations, prove the design, work the cadd issues.  The 5 minutes is very efficient.  The 1.5 hours is very inefficient due to the distraction of the collaboration going on around you.  If they are working on a project not related to you, it is just distracting.  If they are working on the same project as you, you tend to join in the conversation.

    For engineering firms with a lot of small projects, I found that open concept offices feel very quiet compared with non-open concept offices.  That is because people take all their meetings to one of the collaboration rooms (former offices) in order to not disturb the large group of people around them.  The exception to that is the person with a huge medical problem talking extremely loudly to the insurance company about paying their bill.  They are always in the center of the room, and so everyone learns about the new surgical technique to remove bone fragments from a wrist. 

    I think the best mix is a sufficient number of collaboration rooms ranging in size from a 1-3 people rooms to the whole workgroup where the collaboration can be done, and semiprivate cubes where you are not looking at someone next to you where the work gets done.  Having management be in the same cube system helps ensure that there is no preferential office sizing, making people feel more equal.  It also reduces the amount of dusty paper stored in an average managers office.

    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D.,M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX

  • 3.  RE: Management fad gone wrong: open-plan offices

    Posted 05-01-2019 11:40 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-01-2019 11:40 AM
    I think the effectiveness of an open concept is completely dependent on company culture and the personalities of the employees. I know that for me, I am so much more efficient when I am at work in an open concept than I am on the few days I've worked from home. At home there are just as many distractions and those distractions are not work related or career growing (dishes to be washed, dog wants to play, taking a break has with motivation to quickly return to the task at hand, etc)

    For our office, when someone wants to deeply concentrate with no interruption the simply put in headphones or move to a conference table away from the group. We have a highly collaborative process, whether you are working on the same project or not. It is more efficient to look around and immediately see who is available to answer a question without too much interruption than it would be to go walking down a hallway and looking into individual cubicles or offices -- even the offices of our principals and support staff are glass walled on the hallway side.

    I love the natural light coming into the entire office space through the windows and the glass walls of the offices that line the hallway. I work better with background noise (extroverted engineer that doesn't enjoy silence or alone time.) I learn so much through the conversations I overhear, whether that is a project manager on a phone call with a client or a discussion in-house on a project challenge.

    I certainly don't think open concept is for everyone, but I like having the opportunity to work in that environment. That is one of the things to look for when interviewing for a job -- does this environment seem healthy for me?

    Heidi Wallace EI,A.M.ASCE
    Engineer Intern
    Tulsa OK