From Open to Broken

I recently read an article that suggests open plan living is on its way out. Really? But how can it be? Every house on HGTV that Tarek and Christina or Chip and Joanna renovates glorifies the open plan concept…. not to mention the house my husband and I recently designed. But according to Mary Duggan, a judge for the RIBA House of the Year award, people are changing the way they want to live due to the increasing use of mobile technology.  A “broken plan” concept that includes nooks, “snugs” and other separate spaces are now desired by family members who want to escape household commotion to perform work or enjoy their favorite show on their mobile device. Living in an environment with dishes clanging, TVs blaring, people conversing, children playing is too distracting and not ideal for the personal space we often crave at home. 

I think she has a point. Just the other day I must have spent ten minutes looking for my 5 year old son. I finally found him in the corner of our living room nestled behind a lounge chair sporting his sister’s Beats while watching SpongeBob on the iPad. He created his own snug.

This broken plan trend for living is in essence the same concept workplace design is adopting. 

Over the past several decades office environments have evolved to an open plan. Walls diminished, sight lines opened, personal work space shrunk, densities doubled, collaboration flourished, focus work suffered. Some employees embrace the constant connection to peers, others curse the day they moved in.  Why? Distraction. According to extensive research, 50% of workers blame noise as the root cause for distraction with lack of visual privacy as the runner up. As a result, companies suffer from poorer worker performance, up to a 15% decrease in productivity.  Apparently, we can’t multitask as well as we thought. In fact, it takes an average of 20 minutes to get back on task once interrupted. That’s a problem.

While the open office concept is not disappearing anytime soon, this idea of a broken plan is definitely taking shape in today’s office environments. Designers are incorporating nooks and snugs in the form of huddle rooms, phone booths, lounge spaces and even personal pods to satisfy the need for concentrative space in the open plan. Workers can escape their boisterous co-workers shouting on the phone, or better yet, these conversations will be contained in a nearby phone room as directed by open office etiquette standards. The key to making these alternative workspaces successful is the same driver for the demise of open plan living – technology. Having wireless access to data and portable devices makes the ease of transferring work from one location to another simple.

So, is going from open to broken the answer for the workplace? How long until we go from broken to closed?

Michelle Eckhart
Director of Ideation
PMC Commercial Interiors

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