Our hometown newspaper has a feature story in its Sunday magazine called Open offices seem great — until you work in one. It’s a sign of where the pendulum is swinging these days when it comes to open offices. It was hot for several years and now there’s a backlash because it’s not perfect for all companies. Wait a couple years and it’s likely that the pendulum will swing back. The Globe article simplifies the closed vs. open office question considerably. It doesn’t acknowledge the enormous difference between the experience of working at shared tables and working in cubicles with even low walls. It doesn’t show how open-vs.-closed isn’t an all-or-nothing choice. And, most important, it doesn’t consider the possibility that companies without a collaborative culture to start with aren’t going to change immediately because people aren’t hiding in their separate offices anymore.
We have an open office here (which, full disclosure, we love), but this isn’t Big Brother. There are still plenty of places for private and almost-private conversation or reflection. But, as Matt Saiia noted recently on this blog, the question organizations need to ask isn’t “do we want an open or closed office?” The question is “what kind of company do we want to be?” See his What Your Office Says About Your Company for an opinionated but balanced consideration of how to keep your culture and physical layout in sync.