Sunday, November 29, 2009

Open workspaces and communications

In the December 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review -- the theme of which is 'spotlight on innovation'--James B. Stryker has an interesting item in the magazine's Forethought section reporting on his research into the effectiveness of open workspace. He titles his work: "In Open Workplaces, Traffic Headcount Matters"

Everyone who's been around a while remembers the mid-80's push for quiet, private workspaces, many with hard walls and a door! Then came the dot.com boom and the age of osmosis, as Alistair Cockburn puts it, and the open workspace is ushered in. That's more or less where we are today, 10 or 15 years later, with low-rise cubicles, open areas, and lots of face time with our co-worker--that is, if you go to where the work is done, and you do if you are on a SCRUM, XP, or Crystal team.

Mr Stryker cites three parameters that are key to productivity in the open workplace:

  • Visibility

Here's a wow! If the space is on a main traffic route that gets lots of notice, 60% reported increased face time with team members. Lesson: don't locate in corners!

  • Density

More people, more communication--somewhat obvious, but Styker says 16 people in a 25-foot radius really works.  That's about 120+ square feet per person, counting all the public areas.  Generous by my experience.

  • Oasis

Now this is one I really like: 22 meeting spaces within 75-feet is a recommended figure.  My last project was rich with meeting places and it really makes a difference.

Overall, Stryker's article is worth a view, even at a coffee shop or bookstore where HBR is on the shelf!


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