Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies

Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.

 

 

1 comment
  • Anthony Eaton

    There are a multitude of things that need to be considered when designing an office space and a lot of it depends on the kind of business and work that gets done. It is not a one size fits all.

    Companies too often make these decisions based on costs thinking it will save all kinds of money to not have to build offices and walls or invest in cubicles. What they fail to realize is the cost of lost productivity when the design is not right.

    A good office design has a mix of spaces that encourage both collaboration and the opportunity to work without distraction.

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