The Open-Office Backlash

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The Open-Office Backlash

Ever since companies began tearing down walls to replace private offices with open space, there have been plenty of naysayers, and the latest is Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker. Earlier this month, she declared that “the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve” (better communication and idea flow). Pointing to old perceptions — noise and lack of privacy — she calls the open office a “trap” that “may be ingraining a cycle of underperformance.” Yet, in her criticism, Konnikova overlooks the greatest value of the open office — it’s dramatically more sustainable.

By “sustainable,” I mean that open offices are at once economically, environmentally and socially smarter. First, they’re significantly more efficient with space. For most offices the maximum utilization rate throughout the day is only about 48 percent. In other words, companies build, lease, furnish, heat, cool and light more than twice as much space as they need at any given time. As a result, the federal government is reducing the average area per person in its facilities from about 250 square feet to 150 — a 60 percent cut. Some of that savings will come from telecommuting and other flexible policies, but it also will rely on a different space strategy. My firm has found that we can improve the area per person 20-35 percent simply by converting to open offices. For a large company, this can save millions in lease and utility costs every year.

An Article by Lance Hosey