MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Where you [don't] sit in the office

We reflected recently on the debate taking place about the appropriateness of an open office to meet the needs of a diverse population with diverse needs and characteristics. Our position was and is that this is not an either/or choice of the rightness of open versus closed. We are also concerned that a hybrid may not be the best or more robust response, although we certainly believe this is an acceptable midterm-in-the-transformation-of-the-office solution.

Our emerging position is that work has changed substantially and fundamentally, and we now believe that the either/or/hybrid battle uses an increasingly archaic language. We believe that an entirely new lexicon of form is essential to get on and stay on the curve of the increasing momentum of change.

Beyond the open/closed debate, there is also the one about where we work – home or office – and the relative value of each. A recent example of this debate was published on the Bloomberg Businessweek site, here. As with the open/closed debate, we think that these arguments proposing that one or the other is the more correct place are the delightful indicator of a revolution in the making, yet also reflect a depressing tendency to hang on to an ancient lexicon and miss the currently delicious opportunity to design a new language of work and the places and spaces of work.

What is, however, great to grab from the debate is the data from the emerging science of space and interaction. In the Bloomberg Businessweek debate, Ben Weber cites the growing evidence of the benefits of productivity, engagement and job satisfaction that come from face-to-face interaction. This kind of data is helpful in shaping new solutions for the place we've called "the office" and is also helpful in identifying the cultural characteristics and attributes of personal and group behaviors that should be the "program" for designing new types of spaces where the new activities of work can take place.

In yet another example, Bob Frisch asked the question, "Does it matter where your top team sits?" in a recent HBR article (here). He is, essentially, advocating something we've done in past work, which is to provide multiple settings for people to do their work. "Two seats for every employee" sounds counter-intuitive in a time of great compression, but the mantra reinforces the recognition that capturing the value of face-to-face interactions means supporting it in lots of different locations.

Our take is that all of this discussion is the illumination of the fact that we work differently now and need a different response to thinking about and designing the workspace(s). Whether we sit at home or in "the office" or with one team or another, or in a place for focus or a place for collaboration, we should begin to recognize that we work in all of these places and in all of these modes. We should no longer demand a place only for one of us and try to make it work for all that we do, and we should no longer accept a place of work provided by the companies we work for that does not provide lots of places for us to work in the modes that best support what we need to do at whatever time of the day we need it.

We desperately need to move on in the world and get new stuff done. We need new places to do that.