If you haven't seen the photos of Facebook's new office space designed by Frank Gehry that the Washington Post ran, click the link and take a look.
The nine-acre landscaped building roof with walking paths, the stunning main staircase, and waiting area are all impressive. But forget them and pay attention to the first picture of what is reportedly "the largest open-office workspace in the world." Each of the 2,800 employees -- including CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- gets the same desk: five feet long, no drawers. No walls, either.
The Post said that it looked like a modern reinterpretation of a factory floor. I'd say more like a commodities trading room in which everyone simultaneously became exhausted and had to sit down.
The open-office concept has been around for years, but seems to be building momentum. The idea is to make people available for collaboration, with common and work areas available for ad hoc projects groups to gather. You should, in theory, cut the much of the sense of hierarchy and create a greater sense of congeniality.
Certainly many companies have gone the open office route. In some cases, it may make sense. Software companies, for example, can find such arrangements helpful because of the nature of their work. Developers often work closely together on projects and then shift over to work with other groups on something else.
If easy movement and frequent collaboration among employees is at the center of how you do business, then an open office may be what you need. But be wary of acting on the assumption that an open office will automatically do what you need.
Having no walls and doors can mean a lot of distraction. If much of the work in your company is done by individuals who must concentrate for extended periods of time, you might find that partitions and quiet spaces do more for productivity and effectiveness than a fad. And what if someone needs to attend to a personal call? Will you demand that anyone walking by be able to hear them?
Perhaps one of the new blends between open and traditional closed office designs, where there are common areas but also more spaces available to concentrate and work quietly, would make sense. Or it might be that your particular company actually needs offices.
When thinking about changing office design, get employees involved. Ask about the current setup and what they would do differently if they could. You might find that the most agreeable solution will be something completely different.