Is Your Office Design Harming Your Office Productivity?

By Huey Yun Teo
January 29, 2020
Office Design Productivity

Bonus: Here are some office automation tools to give your office productivity a further boost.

The Relationship Between Productivity And Office Design

What is the  relationship between office design and office productivity?  And what is all the debate about open office vs traditional office?

Think streaming natural light, tall glass windows, wide-open spaces bursting with energy and rigour, open office are the new trending workspace. And they evoke the epoch of the new generation – a generation keened and consumed with the buzzwords of maximizing productivity.

The trend of an open office is increasingly multiplying and growing. You see dozens and hundreds of small business and startups working in open offices. The desire to work in such spaces is intense even as the debate between cubicles vs. open plans offices rages on.

A New Yorker piece “The Open Office Trap“ argues against the concept of an open office, stressing that such workplace environment is detrimental to work productivity. These spaces are more prone to distractions, and noise. On the flipside of the coin, traditional cubicle design has been perceived to be stuffy, to be unproductive, individualistic and lacking in autonomy. Model that beckons back to a relegated and outdated form of work environment and office design. They are believed to psychologically diminish work productivity and office attitude.

Though seemingly banal, the subjective debate of space is rifled and riddled with polarizing opinions and emotions.  Even so what makes individuals and organizations so worked up over their workspaces? And what is the appeal of open office such that it is still increasingly captivating office managers and its employees?

How To Address Office Productivity

The philosophy behind the traditional cubicle design is drastically different to its contemporary perceptions. In 1964, George Nelson and his team, under Herman Miller Research Corporation, formulated a plan to address office problems that were affecting their employees.

Action Office was created with a vision to create a kind of work environment that was believed would best suit a corporate office worker. Action Office I proposed workspaces of varying height that enabled workers to freely interact with the space and furniture, according to their working needs.

Robert Propst, key member of the team, began to explore his concept of an office space which allowed employee privacy and ability to personalize their work environment, without affecting other co-workers. He proposed a plan where office territory and space are demarcated to afford privacy to employees, without hindering their ability to collaborate and participate with other team members.

Propst’s proposal, Action Office II, would develop to become what know of the cubicle design today. But it was ultimately meant to be mobile and flexible to the company needs and space, where office components could become interchangeable, standardized and simple to assemble and install.

It raked billion of dollars in sales and became a mainstay of office design. But it developed such that the function of Action Office II became detached from its real purpose and philosophy.

George Nelson predicated his negative sentiments for Action Office II where he wrote a letter to Robert Blanch, VP for Corporate Design and Communication of Herman Miller:

One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO-II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for “employees” (as against individuals), for “personnel,” corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. A large market
George Nelson

Additionally, Propst would regret how his idea had evolved such that he remarked in 1997 on the form in which his concept had evolved into the the cubicleizing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity.

What happened then?

People forgot the true purpose of office design.

Office design and workspace are meant for living individuals with emotional and human needs. In obsessing over work productivity and finding quantifiable means to tag productivity levels and efficiency, the concept of “cubicle design” has evolved such that it negates the humane and emotional aspect of individuals – perceiving them as robots and parts to Taylorism’ manufacturing line. It has ironically seen the rigid cementation of an office design plan, which was meant to be flexible to workers and company’s need.


The Steps for Creating a Living Office

Creating workspace and planning office design should be purposeful and intuitive to human working needs. Our needs, expectations and preferences related to our ideal work place are constantly evolving and transforming.

Office cubicle design (i.e. Action Plan), open office plans and even remote work are all varying means and methods to create a productive work environment for different needs. Aside from the debates raging on their merits and cons, what really matters is tampering and understanding your company’s changing needs thus choosing a fluid office design plan that would adapt, scale and transform with your company’s long term and short term growth.

Huey Yun Teo

Huey Yun is a Search Marketing Specialist at RedMart.