An Open Office That Comes With Its Own Protocol Book

The open-plan workplace is hardly a new phenomenon, but it seems people are still learning how to navigate the concept.

What would you do if the interior walls of your office came tumbling down? Would you thank your employer? Would you bask in the natural light now streaming through your open plan office?

Though open-plan offices have been around for decades, they still upset many employees, especially those who cling to their cubicle walls. Businesses want their employees to collaborate in more free-flowing spaces than some are used to, but many designers are not sure how to get there without pulling the rug out from under the employees.

The current issue of OfficeMax Workplace Interiors’ Impact magazine explores how two very different workplace redesigns avoided employee culture shock through careful testing and implementation.

Image courtesy MKDA

DeWitt Stern offices by architectural and interiors firm Milo Kleinberg Design Associates (MKDA)

Courtesy MKDA

One Impact article profiles a recent redesign of a historic building’s interiors for the insurance firm DeWitt Stern by architectural and interiors firm Milo Kleinberg Design Associates (MKDA). DeWitt Stern (pre-redesign) provides the perfect foil for the open workplace—an “enclosed” work environment where employees had come to feel a level of comfort in their privacy and seclusion. MKDA systematically monitored work habits of these employees, interviewing them, testing their usage of space, and even setting up a test workstation to acclimatize them. Because of this level of involvement, employees felt responsible for the end result, and their initial reservations about the plan’s lack of privacy were let go when they felt the change of natural light. This trade-off is common in opening up the workplace—less privacy, more wellbeing.

Courtesy 3form

The other redesign profiled in Impact was for the most part virtual, needing an area of operation where employees could touch base. This is a headquarters for a non-profit company that helps the elderly to continue to live at home as they age. OZ Architecture decided to open the office to multi-use spaces, for concentration, informal discussions, and even a treadmill desk (though the practicality of a light jog on a conference call still eludes us). The design of the office was apparently so new to the employees that the firm created a protocol booklet to educate the company on proper usage of the space—take cell phone calls here not there, conference calls only in the “focus” room, etc.

Both designs suggest one thing—while the open office plan may be more suited to our wellness than a closed one, the open office still needs a protocol book.

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