Facebook just unveiled plans for its new campus expansion, which was designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry. It will be a single room, stretching 10 acres, where everyone will sit in the open with moveable furniture. As Mark Zuckerberg says in his own status update, “It will be the largest open floor plan in the world,” housing over 2,800 engineers.
Open work environments are supposed to foster greater communication and chance meetings, which in turn would lead to more creativity, teamwork and the breakdown of silos. However, many people who work in open environments point out:
- The increased noise from phone calls and casual conversations impedes their ability to concentrate and focus
- Germs spread more readily and workers are more likely to get sick
- The lack of privacy (whether to take a call or to scratch an itch) increases stress and reduces morale
Indeed, many researchers are beginning to agree:
- Dr Vinesh Oommen completed a literature review and concluded, “In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover.” He goes on to note that research shows that influenza virus is more quickly passed as well.
- Dr. Craig Knight suggests that traditional office environments may increase individual wellbeing by 32% and office productivity by 15% (The Secret Life of Buildings)
- Professors Anne-Laure Fayard and John Weeks point out in their article, “Who Moved My Cube” (Harvard Business Review, July 2011), “Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.”
For Facebook’s new office design to actually foster the right kind of interactions, it must provide sufficient privacy so that their engineers can talk in private and work without interruptions. Fayard and Weeks suggest it comes down to: Proximity, Privacy and Permission.
- Proximity: Give people plenty of space between each other, but facilitate traffic patterns that result in “run-ins” at shared resources like restrooms, entrances/exits, snack rooms, elevators, etc.
- Privacy: Work stations need to be designed to offer visual and acoustic privacy; a cardinal rule is that workers should always be able to see if someone is approaching them.
- Permission: The corporate culture dictates what is “permissible”; workers need to know to what degree is informal socializing accepted or encouraged, and what is acceptable or not when it comes to interrupting someone who is working.
For now we’ll have to wait to see if Facebook engineers will “like” working in the “largest open floor plan in the world” or whether it will cut their productivity and job satisfaction.
What do YOU think of open work environments? (Leave a comment below)
Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. Get more success and tips from his newsletter at kevinkruse.com and check out keynote video clips. His new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, teaches managers how to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams.