Who needs walls when we have screens?
There is open plan and open plan. Open plan with Dilbert cubicles is only open to the ceiling, which could be handy for either praying or self-hypnotism. I remember an old Spanish song which lyrics described the tedium of an afternoon siesta but managed to produce beautiful and profound lines, just to end as ‘oh my God, this wall could do with another painting’, as the climax of observation and thinking laying in that bed.
Taking the walls apart is a noble attempt to foster interaction and communication. Unfortunately, most open-space workstations are places with low walls to hang a screen. The workstation as a screen holder is anything but an achievement of work architecture. In fact, people’s mind wander through the digital world, not around the faces of bodies of colleagues in front, which also are digitally secured.
Thee is a branch of Social Anthropology that focuses on proxemics, the theories around use of space (proximity) and non verbal communication. Unfortunately, all available social anthropologists are doing field studies in Central Africa before writing the dissertation and joining Consumer Insights in Uniliver.
That social anthropological view of things would tells us (in its love for words) that the aim may have been sociopetal, that is, producing social interaction but may have ended up sociofugal, or destroying it.
Facilities Management, that function in large companies in charge of the non contamination of walls, could do with a course of social anthropology. We need the workplace closer to a market and a plaza, more than an open prison with no walls. Enlightened facilities people may have discovered the water cooler but you have to go two floors down to ‘interact at that campfire’.
In work-space and place terms, leaders need to suspend judgment and explore the mechanisms of bringing in oxygen. Beware the Open Plan as an/the only answer for collaboration. ‘Having more space’ does not mean anything unless there is sociability in the system (social-ability). Collaboration is a behaviour, not a by-product of desks facing each other.
‘It’s behaviours, stupid’, not ‘plenty of space’ and a sterilized workfloor.