Workplace design is an intense field of study, driven by design companies and business school researchers trying to get the most for their corporate clients. Yet empirical evidence is mixed, at best, on whether open plan space fosters collaboration or enhances productivity. There's definitely a way to make open plan work for any environment, however.
Everyone has an opinion based on their own experience and I’m no exception. For me, open plan has had powerful positives. I’ve had inspiring conversations and benefited from the tacit peer pressure to put my head down and work. On the other hand, I’ve also suffered through happy hours that start a little too early, and from personal phone conversations that are a bit too personal.
It takes an ecosystem
The good news is that coworking spaces often have a variety of spaces on offer, from quiet to phone friendly, from soft seat to hard seat. This ecosystem of spaces gives me the chance to change my setting on demand, whether I need privacy or different lighting or a different backdrop. As Fast Company writes, “Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, as is traditional in open plan design, work environments should provide various options that support employees working effectively.”
Ideally, that ecosystem should include the outdoors. In July, I took part in a popup coworking event called #BeAnOutsider at work. Hosted by LL Bean and Industrious, the coworking operator, the popup was basically a mobile open-air coworking container, with different workspaces. They set it up in the middle of Boston’s Greenway and signed people up for one-hour coworking shifts.
Despite the fact that it was nearly 90 degrees outside, it really worked for me. First off, I randomly happened to re-connect with someone whom I had met at an event a few months earlier, which was useful. Then I put my head down to work and found the natural light and open air to be recharging. As LL Bean writes in their guide:
“The latest research into our physiological and psychological attraction to nature—a phenomenon called biophilia—suggests that getting outside during the workday can drive productivity and creativity. And studies have quantitatively confirmed a truth that humanity has long felt—that the outside makes us healthier and happier.”
I couldn’t have worked much longer in that heat, though. Outdoor coworking is highly weather dependent, and a lot of us are accustomed to working in a pretty narrow band of office “weather.”
But perhaps we should adapt ourselves a little more to real world conditions. LL Bean’s Be an Outsider at Work microsite highlights different ways to get outside for part of the workday. I think they make a lot of sense and I’ll try to adopt them when I can. To be sure, with Boston’s weather, it will be a challenge.
I've been coworking since 2010. which has taught me a few things about making it work. I have a lot left to learn.