At AdvantageCS, we strive to accomplish our goals as efficiently and effectively as we can. Our defined vison of success is:
To be the preferred partner for our clients and prospects, where talented and motivated professionals, working together, deliver the highest quality services and technical solutions to an expanding client community for many decades to come.
Many factors are involved in achieving success, one of which involves the physical environment in which we work.
One benefit of working at AdvantageCS is the opportunity to work onsite at different client locations, both in the US and all across the globe. We have clients in the UK, France, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Australia, just to name a few---in addition to the US. This allows us to observe many different sizes and styles of office arrangements. While onsite, we get to interact in the workspace designed and developed especially for that client, specific to their national norms. Consequently, we get to experience the benefits and drawbacks of each environment.
Some clients inhabit small office buildings or suites, while others occupy high-rise complexes built to improve the landscape of the city where they reside. Examples of this latter approach include the American Medical Association building in downtown Chicago and the ship-shaped Aller Media headquarters jutting out into the waterway in Copenhagen.
But, aside from the building itself, the question is: What’s the best layout?
Cubicles, Offices or Open Workspaces?
What workspace style is the best for keeping employees motivated, working together, developing and delivering world-class software solutions here in Ann Arbor, Michigan? Is it cubicles, offices, or open workspaces? We have them all and are always trying to deploy them in the most effective way for each persona and group. When prospective customers and clients tour our facilities, they almost always comment on, or ask about, our set-up, since we don’t have one consistent layout.
The answer depends heavily on the task at hand. What type of development is taking place and how much external interaction will be occurring? How often will the input of others be required? Are interruptions a benefit to the rapid development efforts taking place, or would interruptions be considered a hindrance?
The Drawbacks of Cubicles
There are arguments on all sides of this discussion, some for cubicles, some for open workspaces and some strongly against either. More than ten years ago, The American Psychological Association published an article titled “There is nothing good about working in a cubicle.” In the article, they report: ‘the high-paneled cubicles reminiscent of "Dilbert" appear to undermine worker productivity the most, while closed offices have a particularly isolating effect.’ This study was performed specifically on small technology firms. The results are published at http://iwsp.human.cornell.edu.
The Benefits of Open Workspaces
The report goes on to cite the many benefits of working in an open workspace. These include fostering more employee productivity, and the learning and camaraderie gained in the discussion that takes place in such an environment. When collaboration is paramount and the input of others is valuable to the success of the development effort, then open workspaces are the way to go.
Privacy Is Always a Concern
The argument concerning an open workspace versus a cubicle work environment will always include the subject of privacy. It’s a major issue to many employees---either preserving their privacy while at work, or avoiding the distractions prevalent in an open workspace. The idea that cubicles offer more privacy might just be an illusion, as reported in the same article by APA: within cubicles ‘some employees feel free to have long, loud phone or face-to-face conversations that distract others.’ But even the tallest and thickest cubicle walls don’t block all noise or prevent interruptions.
No One Perfect Setup
The key to a successful work environment is to create a workspace that is efficient, effective, and flexible for ever-evolving work demands. Sometimes, isolation is called for---closed rooms for large meetings or significant client presentations, for example. Other times, collaboration is critical to the success of a project, requiring close proximity to fellow employees who can answer questions, give feedback and brainstorm ideas. Finally, there continues to be a need for private offices for confidential conversations and tasks such as payroll and personnel issues.
Naturally, Good Light Is Important
Not only does the configuration of the workspace lead to improved efficiencies, but so does the amount of natural light. It has been shown in numerous studies that visual changes, such as windows that overlook scenic landscapes, improve productivity.
Psychology Today published an article in April of 2015 (‘Why our cubicles make us miserable’) in which they discuss what environments produce more effective workflow. It says: “Having a view of the outdoors has also been shown to promote performance in the workplace. Employees who sit near a window are better at staying on task, show greater interest in their work, and report more loyalty to their company.”
Another article by the same publication describes the improvement gained by simple exposure to natural light. In a nutshell: “A new study titled, "Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life," concludes that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers' sleep, activity and quality of life. “
The Best of All Worlds
Here at Advantage, we have all three: collaborative work spaces, cubicles along with available office space for intermittent meetings or calls, and permanent offices. In addition, we have flexible and configurable work environments and we frequently change the cluster that we work within, depending on the project at hand. In the same way that our software has adapted and evolved over the years, so has our workspace. We have seen and experienced some of the best (and worst) work environment in the industry, and have incorporated many of the best ideas into our own work environment.
What’s your preferred workspace configuration? What type of work are you responsible for and how much interaction with others do you have? I’d love to hear---please leave a comment.
P.S. Interested in the evolution of the office space? Here’s a great graphic representing the evolution of the office space: https://www.timesheets.com/blog/2015/01/psychology-of-the-office-space/