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The Open Office and the Future of Work
You may not have realized it, but open office workspaces comprise 70% of all formal workplaces in the United States. While the open office setup was first pioneered in Germany in the 1950s, it didn't really catch on in America until the 2000s, but since then it's adoption has seemed unstoppable. As we move towards the 2020s, there's a significant pushback on the open office plan, but it's a bit more complicated than just how we set up where and how we work.
We are in a period in which the office is being disrupted in countless ways. There are no longer big, heavy desktop computers with giant monitors, but now giant flatscreen desktop computers are the norm, unless your company and team use laptops, in which case not even those desktops are there. Cubicles have been banished by the generation that grew up with the movie Office Space. The internet and the software that runs on it have made remote work no longer something that you hear "one guy somewhere" gets to do, but perhaps something you yourself already do 1 or 2 days per week. Add to that a vibrant new coworking scene in which people who used to work from home or in coffee shops now do so in hubs of creativity and collaboration, and you've got a lot of changes to assimilate.
With all these disruptions happening simultaneously, it is no wonder that we're feeling a bit of whiplash (cue articles and studies damning the open office). But the question isn't really about the open office. It's about the future of work.
What's so bad about the open office?
People will cite studies showing decreases in productivity, concentration, and comfort by employees in open workspaces, as well as increases in sickness and anxiety. To be clear, those studies do have their merits. But companies are more free than ever to build a workplace (virtual and actual) that best fits their missions. If you're a SAaS company with team members all around the world, your workers determine the best way to remote work for themselves. If you're a traditional bricks-and-mortar business, it's on you to find a way that creates an environment for success. What's clear is that all the disruptions above have to be addressed in your vision. Do you want employees to be in house or remote? Why or why not? Do you want an open office plan, a traditional one, or a mixture? Why or why not? Is productivity or camaraderie more important? Do you have to choose? Why or why not?
The future of work
What's clear from observing these trends and asking these questions is that there are no easy answers, but there is a simple way to begin the conversation: ask, then listen. Find a way that works from your company's mission outward: to how your team works best, and finally, to how satisfied your customers are with the results. The disruptions are far from over - but the clearer you and your team are on the why and how of your work, the better equipped you will be to deal with the ongoing changes to the workplace...and our society as we know it.
Do you and/or your team have a preferred way/mode to work? Share it with us (and why!) in the comments below to get a coupon for 25% off any Rascal products in our clubs.
About Ben Davis
A serial entrepreneur, Ben Davis is founder of The Gents Place and a leading investor in gentlemen's refinement and confidence.
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