Not long ago, cubicles were torn down and private offices were abolished to make way for the open-office concept revival – in hopes that a shared space would inspire incredible collaboration and creativity. However, today, the open office is dying. Researchers have begun pushing back against the concept. This pushback may eventually lead to the demise of the open office, ultimately raising the question: what is the future of the progressive office?

The (Long) Story of the Open Office

Invented in the 1950s, the open office existed before cubicles. The concept was birthed in Germany and quickly influenced the U.S. In response to the largely unsuccessful idea, Herman Miller, a furniture design company, created the “Action Office” in 1964. After some tweaking, the Action Office faintly resembled what we recognize as a cubicle. Wired writer Nikil Saval commented, “Action Office II was Propst’s [from Herman Miller] attempt to give form to the office worker’s desire. A ‘workstation’ for the ‘human performer,’ it consisted of three walls, obtusely angled and movable, which an office worker could arrange to create whatever workspace he or she wanted.” Propst’s design took off. Unfortunately, as it expanded, knock-off Action Offices misused what Herman Miller designed for workplace freedom into the soul-draining cubicles we know (and dislike).

Like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the next, the past decade saw a modern open-office concept revival in response. Then, at the end of 2014, The Washington Post exclaimed that the “open-office trend is destroying the workplace.” The call for controlled spaces designed for individualistic work once again rippled through the public.

Why Do Open Offices Still Exist?

If research shows that the open-office concept tends to decrease productivity, why does it still exist? Simply because they do have certain benefits. The idea that every member of a company, from the new-hire to the CEO, is working in the same space, on the same level is attractive. In general, open office spaces are less expensive because individual desks aren’t required. Fast Company writes, “According to Humanyze, open plans are great at encouraging interaction between teams, which is useful when a company is trying to create new products.” However, when other forms are work are required, such as writing or one-on-one client communication, the space becomes harmful.

So, what’s the solution?

What’s the Future of the Progressive Office?

The future of the progressive office will probably look like a combination of the collaborative open-office concept and the solitary workspace of the cubicle. This will provide employees with space to be collectively innovative and space to work when individual focus is required. The open-office concept alone may be dying – but integrating the collaboration philosophy into quiet workspaces is the future of the progressive office.

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