Don’t Get Too Comfortable at That Desk | Steve Lohr | The New York Times

New office layout at Microsoft

“First there were individual offices. Then cubicles and open floor plans. Now, there is a ‘palette of places.’ New office designs are coming to a workplace near you, with layouts meant to cater to the variety of tasks required of modern white-collar workers. Put another way, it means people don’t sit in just one place. […]The new model eschews the common dogmas of work life: Everybody gets an office, or everyone gets a cubicle, or everybody gets a seat on a workbench. A diversity of spaces, experts say, is more productive, and the new concept is called “activity-based workplace design,” tailoring spaces for the kind of work done.”

Sourced through The New York Times

Michel Baudin‘s comments: Management at companies like GE, IBM, or Microsoft has just made a stunning discovery: office spaces should be designed around the work. Duh! While engineers need to concentrate undisturbed for hours, customer service reps are on the phone all day and human resources needs privacy. Product development teams need collaboration and immediate, face-to-face communication, along with confidentiality, while traders thrive in the noisy, competitive atmosphere of the trading room.

It is obvious to anyone who thinks about operations that workspaces should be customized to accommodate a variety of needs, and be easily changed. The above picture shows a recently remodeled Microsoft office with a whiteboard in the hallway, an unexpected location for brainstorming on confidential matters. My guess is that it will soon morph into a coffee station.

While not usually expressed in so many words, management priority on office space in the past decades has been reducing costs by increasing density and providing less furniture. My office is a private room full of books; cubicle dwellers have a few linear feet of shelfspace; people working at benches have no storage space except for their own briefcases or backpacks. Depending on where they sit, they may also have a front-row seat to the foosball games played all day by boisterous colleagues and partake in the aromas of lunches consumed by others at their benches.

There should be no one-size-fits-all design. Each department should be consulted and engaged in the design of a workspace to support its work, and it should be subject to continuous improvement.

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