The Perils of Office Design, or: How I’m Learning to Love Our Small Office

This has been an interesting, and at times tough, week.

Our branch just moved offices. Like most office moves–and work in the public service long enough and you realize that moving is as much a part of life as breathing–this one was fraught with concern. People rarely like change. But this is particularly true when the change means no more outdoor patio (with Spring finally here!), no more coffee shop within the same building, and no more spacious, somewhat-private office space. This last point is the clincher: we are now condensed into almost half the space (I don’t have the exact measurements) as before.

To help take the edge off we’ve been provided with the most modern furniture in the organization (this includes Ikea-like desks, a padded-top rolling file cabinet that doubles as a guest chair and stainless steel articulating monitor arms) and our walls have been painted modern colours that suggest “living room” more than “board room.”

These are all creative touches that I think people appreciate, but given the work we do, in the long run colour schemes and minimalist furniture mean far less than having the privacy and breathing room to be able to think creatively. While it might be argued that collaboration may increase due to our close proximity to one another there is a penalty to all this closeness.

“The opposite side of the collaboration coin is the need to concentrate at work. This requires a quiet setting with relatively few distractions. Such an environment is particularly important for knowledge creation activities—thinking, writing, programming, designing, and so forth.”

The above quote from a Harvard Business School article pinpoints the issue. If people are expected and required to think creatively and strategically the environment within which this thinking takes place plays a critical role. Believing and promoting otherwise, whatever the justification or rationale, is disingenuous at best.

However, it’s one week in, and there’s plenty of change yet to come. Come to think of it, our branch would make a very good anthropological case study on the socio-cultural dynamics of office life in the 21st century. Or, maybe, just a really good reality show.

One final note: the Babble is a privacy tool our (or any) office may want to explore. This thing looks fascinating and insane all at the same time. Be sure to check out the video demo to see what I mean.

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