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“WIDE OPEN SPACES”:  Not everyone needs them

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“WIDE OPEN SPACES”: Not everyone needs them

By: Steve Sadler, CEO, Allegiancy

January 07, 2015

“Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace,” proclaimed a recent headline in the Washington Post.

As the leader of a company that manages millions of feet of office space, I read the article with interest and agreed with many of its points.

Here’s what we at Allegiancy are seeing around the country:

1) The open floor plan is a plus only for a few select businesses.  It works well for securities traders, air traffic controllers, and anyone who needs to instantaneously exchange information to work effectively.

For everyone else, not so much.

We experienced this reality three years ago when our company, Allegiancy, tried an open floor plan. Everyone hated it, except the president and me (the CEO). We also found that many of the perceived benefits of an open-office were not realized in practice.

2) One of the often-promoted benefits of an open-office is that the company can reduce its footprint, its need for space. That does not seem to happen long-term.

Instead, with the loss of privacy for employees, the need for more meeting rooms, phone booths, and other private spaces expands.   Anytime employees need to have a confidential conversation, they need one of the much-coveted private rooms. Ultimately, the growth of the private spaces can offset the space savings the company had hoped to realize.

3)   Time is lost with employees trying to “grab a conference room” (scheduling or negotiating for private space). Meanwhile, spontaneous communication is lost because meaningful conversations have to be pre-arranged.

In my experience, only the most confident, assured person will take the risk of trying out something truly new — floating a radical idea, innovating in a big way, or speculating about “what if?” — right in front of God and everybody else.

Most folks prefer to test the waters with a trusted mentor or colleague. We may keep a new idea to ourselves while it germinates, protecting ourselves from public scrutiny or discouragement, and from annoying coworkers who could steal or undermine our idea.

The need to always be “on guard” about what we’re saying in an open-office can discourage risk-taking and innovation.

4)   The increase in ambient noise reduces productivity. Numerous studies have shown that excessive distractions are physically draining and lead to poorer work performance.

As the Washington Post author points out, in an open-office, introverts are subjected to the conversations of extroverts all day long, and extroverts have to be ever-mindful of their quieter colleagues.

Then there’s the “lowest common denominator” effect:   the least busy, least dedicated, least disciplined person can end up defining an open work environment for everyone else.

Bottom line:   Open-office space is the current fashion, but as bell bottom pants once showed the world: what’s in style doesn’t always work for everyone.

Steve Sadler’s company, Allegiancy, manages commercial properties that have outperformed their peers by 45 percent since 2006. The company has more than $300 million in assets under management and delivers clients attractive returns and profitable, hassle-free investments in commercial real estate.

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