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Zen and the Art of Worker Bliss

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In my neverending search for the ideal office layout,  I’ve pored over countless articles riddled in contradictions. Workspace designers often reference the Harvard Business Review study heralding the death of the cubicle in favor of open designs, yet there’s recent research by Fuze and others stating that open plans completely destroy productivity. Who’s right?

Adding to the confusion, an increasing number of people are working from home these days, yet numerous companies believe that innovation comes from serendipitous in-office collisions. And then there’s the reality that in-person brainstorming sessions totally matter. Oy Gevalt!

I think where all of this is headed is employee choice. Balance is required, and just like in the real world, we need places for seclusion, quiet work, open community, and smaller social/collaboration areas.

I really like where Knoll is at in this regard.

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In the Knoll-provided graphic above, “Primary spaces” are defined as areas where you have your permanent office home. Sure, call it a cubicle or small private office. The point is, it’s yours and for concentrated work time. This eschews the trendy “hot-desking” concepts where employees never have their own permanent workstations.

They also have places for assembly, community, enclaves and refuge. “Activity” areas are all those places that are not your primary home.  Here we see a blend of about 50/50 between Primary and Activity space.  Historically, private areas have been at a ratio of 70% and higher.

What all of the aforementioned research appears to leave out is that we all work totally differently. Doesn’t this help explain the controversy? And we also change over time. Some of us prefer working in social areas all the time and some of us really want to be left alone.  It’s important for managers to recognize this. Aside from meetings or brainstorming sessions that require groups to gather, let people choose what’s best for them.

You may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, which made huge leaps in better defining our personality types. It was based on Carl Jung’s recognition that humans experience the world using four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. From my perspective, this begs the question: Where are the studies that map Myers-Briggs personality types to preferred office environment? Introverts want constant privacy. Extroverts would rather be dead than spend all day in a cubicle.

Forward-thinking companies need to finally get on board recognizing and catering to the plethora of personality types and what drives each of us towards productivity bliss.





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