Intriguing pics clearly show the top and worst business office models for workers
Lego’s beautiful open place of work format presents areas for concentration and inspiration. Designed by Rosan Bosch & Run Rjord, photographer Anders Sune Berg.
Lego’s office in Denmark is developed to let its staff imagine and play like kids again, while still working like adults.
The center of the room has space for informal meetings — including a slide from the second floor, if you don’t feel like taking the stairs. The sides of the room have more private space where designers can concentrate on their work. The work tables have built-in bonsai gardens, and there are plenty of podiums and towers where designers can display and share their work with each other. Even the wallpaper is decorated with giant blades of grass, to put employees into the mindset of their Legos.
This lovely office was clearly designed with the needs of its personnel in mind. Lego is not the only one. Here are refuge spaces in Google’s offices in Zurich, where people have privacy to think and be creative.
Fun refuge spaces at Google Zurich. Evolution Design, photographs by peter Wurmli LI Shuping.
But few business office workers are so lucky. Many workers spend their days in mazes of cubicles or open-office plans that produce surprisingly more distractions than performance. On the average weekday, many Americans spend 8.7 hours at work or doing work-related activities — about an hour more than they spend sleeping. This means that, given an average life expectancy of 78.6 years, a worker could easily spend more than a decade at their desk.
Business designers have been trying to adapt offices for decades to better suit the nature of work, as well as meet company demands for cost-cutting and integrating new technology. Over the 20th century, the most popular office environment design has evolved from rows of offices with doors, to an open plan made to facilitate collaboration, to the cubicle, back to an open up business office plan, and now to more mixed-used spaces.
The way that workplace design has evolved says a lot about the way we think about company organization and work in general. In the first half of the 20th century, many white-collar workplaces in the United States were still organized into rows of corridor offices. But by the 1950s, offices had begun to shift to the kind of layout you might see in “Mad Men”: a ring of offices around the corner of the room, surrounding a secretarial pool or accountants in the middle. In this design, only a company’s higher-ups had privacy: The lower-downs lived out their working lives in plain view.
Then in 1958, two German brothers developed the open up place of work layout that many workplaces embrace today. They did away with personal offices, changed the straight rows of desks into free-flowing groupings that were based on one’s department, and added in break areas and plants to visually break up the space. They called their design Bürolandschaft, or business landscape. The design was thought to facilitate collaboration, and, as The post’s Jena McGregor writes, it appealed to managers then and today because of its flexibility and cost-savings.
It was a little more than a decade later that walls went up once again, as the first cubicle was introduced.
The cubicle today is a symbol of workplace drudgery and tedium. (“We don’t have a lot of time on Earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way,” the main character in “Office Space” says of his cubicle.) But like the shopping mall, the cubicle actually had surprisingly idealistic origins.
[9 things you didn’t know about the office environment cubicle]
Initially, the cubicle was seen as liberating, providing autonomy to workers who had grown weary of the “Big Brother is Watching You” experience of the open up business. The inventor of the cubicle, Robert propst, criticized the open business office of the 1960s as a wasteland that “saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment.” The cubicle was intended to once again provide privacy and personal space, while also allowing for relatively easy communication.
For new corporations with a flatter structure, the cubicle also became a symbol of egalitarianism. Intel CEO Andy Grove famously sat in a cubicle. Executives including Meg Whitman of eBay, Michelle peluso of Travelocity, Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Joe Mansueto of Morningstar copied that practice.
Eventually, however, America fell out of love with the cubicle, and the laminate walls started to come down. Since the 1990s, many offices have shifted back toward the open up formats of yore, which are supposed to stimulate employee teamwork and collaboration.
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