While the open office trend has dominated the tech scene, it has also become a hotly debated and divisive topic. Having witnessed an evolution of work spaces over 20 years, I will maintain that going "open plan" has been one of the most important things we did at my company, LivePerson (check out how we did it here). There is a right way and wrong way to do it. There needs to be a lot of close collaboration when deciding to move into an open office format and a careful balancing of design decisions with the nature of your business. Before making any major investment in an office redesign, you also need to consider if it reflects your culture, mission, and core values. Not to sound cheesy, but the journey is really as important as the destination.

About five years ago, I realized LivePerson's old-school format of cubicles surrounded by private offices was becoming both a physical and mental barrier to us living our company mission of "creating meaningful connections." Our company culture is very important to our employees and something we are very proud of, but it was in stark contradiction to our hierarchical office layout. The work dynamic and spirit of innovation was starting to feeling stagnant.

While the majority of employees knew we needed to break down the walls, naturally some were loathe to leave their cushy offices. But through careful cross-team collaboration, we built a new office that everyone is happy to call their home away from home. The result is an award-winning space and a design process we've since replicated in our offices around the world. Here are guidelines to ensure the space you create optimizes your company mojo and doesn't hinder it.

 

  • Turn everyone into an architect (even the accountants). Don't get reactive feedback from staff about the space they want to work in--assign them official ownership of the design. When we redesigned the LivePerson offices, we had representatives from every department meet each week with an architect to design a space that not only reflected our culture but also worked for each team. Teams were collaborating in a way they never had before, strutting their creative muscles, and better understanding each other's work habits and requirements as they experimented with layouts. Today, our office fosters connection, creativity, and collaboration--but more importantly inspires a sense of pride and authorship.
  • Solve the seating puzzle. There's an art to the seating chart, and you need people from every team to represent their specific needs. We were mindful of what groups worked together the most and, therefore, needed to be in the closest proximity. In subsequent re-shufflings, we try to mix up the arrangement so teams that don't usually interact get to know one another. Some offices don't even assign seats at all! Nuances about how teams work can only be learned by involving employees in the process. Otherwise, salespeople who are pitching all day will end up next to the legal group, who often require quiet and confidentiality.
  • Location, location, location. What's on the inside is just part of your work space; think about whether or not the neighborhood you're in suits your vision. Our original office, in the corporate jungle ofMidtown Manhattan, didn't match our work space ambitions. We took a chance on the then-borderline neighborhood of Hudson Yards, an area that is now on the brink of being the city's next tech hub.
  • Support downtime. If it's in your culture to "work hard, play hard," make sure your space affords this lifestyle.Knowing our employees spend long hours at the office, we added a small gym to host yoga classes and boot camp to foster group connection. We also have a spacious lounge room stocked with a mini-fridge and projector for sports and movie nights.
  • Closed spaces are still necessary. Even though you've embraced the open concept, you'll need closed spaces for practical purposes. On the flip side, if you have an office full of offices, create gathering spaces for community. We opted for a handful of small and large conference rooms to accommodate team meetings, have sensitive conversations, or to practice your sales pitch.
  • Add the personal touch. Employees often customize their desk areas, but encourage them to make the entire office their own, too. Whether it be employee photography exhibits, providing artwork, or staging conference room-design contests, there are myriad ways for everyone to make their mark on the space. It's also a way to give ownership of the space to new employees long after the office isn't new anymore.

 

Remember that it'll take some time and adjustment before people get into the groove. Design your work space not for cool's sake but to support the company and culture you strive for.

Want to stop by sometime? Our doors are always open. DM me on Twitter, and we'll give you the grand tour!

Published on: Jan 27, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.