How Open Is Your Workspace?

By    July 3, 2013

sparefoot-foosball

Here at SpareFoot, we pride ourselves on maintaining an environment that cultivates teamwork and productivity. Many of us work in open spaces that look nothing like the cubicle-filled land of the “Dilbert” cartoon or the drab space on “The Office” TV show.

Few of us occupy traditional offices; that includes our CEO, Chuck Gordon, who sits at one of the many connected tables scattered around our space in downtown Austin. There’s no proverbial corner office for Chuck. If we want to enjoy some quiet time for thinking and reflection, we can grab our laptops and head off to any one of several meeting rooms with sushi-inspired names like Anago, Ika, Tako and Toro. (Of course, we always can take a breather to play foosball, shuffleboard, ping-pong or Pop-A-Shot.)

As my colleague Rachel Greenfield explained in a 2012 blog post, the SpareFoot HQ is “part bar, part business, total tech haven.”

Survey: Most Workspaces Not Ideal
Sadly, not every workplace is as fun, inviting and vibrant as ours.

A survey commissioned recently by architecture and design firm Gensler found that only 24 percent of U.S. workers are in what they consider ideal work environments. Gensler said the majority of Americans struggle to work effectively, leading to less-than-desirable productivity, innovation and worker engagement.

The rise of the open workspace actually may be damaging the American workplace, according to Gensler. “In some cases, the pendulum may have swung too far, with too much emphasis on open communication and not enough on focus,” Gensler co-CEO Diane Hoskins wrote on her firm’s blog.

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It’s actually swung far enough that U.S. workers report they’re less able to focus now than they were in 2008, when Gensler last conducted its workplace survey.

“Shifts in the modern workplace haven’t just compromised focus, however,” Hoskins wrote. “Open work environments and under-provided spaces to meet and collaborate have shifted all work activities—not just focusing but collaborating and learning as well—towards people’s primary workspaces, eroding overall effectiveness and stifling productivity and innovation.”

Focus and Collaboration Are Key
So, what constitutes an ideal work environment? According to Gensler, it’s a mix of spaces that spur teamwork and promote concentration.

“Our survey findings demonstrate that focus and collaboration are complementary work modes. One cannot be sacrificed in the workplace without directly impacting the other,” Hoskins said in a news release.

Curious about which physical characteristics contribute to a well-designed, high-functioning workplace? A report from “experience design” firm Kahler Slater identified 14 attributes of such an environment, including:

  • Distraction-free work.
  • Collaboration and on-the-fly interaction.
  • Unhindered teamwork and meetings.
  • Access to daylight.
  • Control of glare.
  • Employee proximity that supports work flow.
  • Expression of organizational culture.

Fortunately, the SpareFoot space incorporates the bulk of the attributes outlined by Kahler Slater, and encourages the focus and collaboration stressed by Gensler. And according to Gensler, this sort of work setting pays off. Gensler said its 2013 survey showed workers who can focus effectively are 57 percent more able to collaborate, 88 percent more able to learn and 42 percent more able to socialize at work than their counterparts who aren’t able to focus.

After having worked here since early April, I can attest to the fact that SpareFoot’s workspace enables people to focus, collaborate, learn and socialize. And we really know how to socialize.

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

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