Office Design & Communication

Ever stop to think about how the design of an office effect communication? April’s issue of Wired had a story on the history of office design starting back in 1904 with Frederick Taylor, the father of efficiency, who first recommended the open bull pen with the overseeing boss.  This would seem to allow for open communication between employees because they are all right next to each other, but really hindered communication because the boss was always watching.  It did make people work efficiently.
In the 1960s Burolandschaft and Herman Miller started to mix it up with varied designs based on function of work — some stations side-by-side and some circular.  This was also the decade the cubicle was created.  The varied design did increase communication, when and where is what needed for work.
By the 1980s the cubicle had been taken to the extreme and farms were built with everyone having their own ‘space.’  I remember that illusion of privacy — you could hear everyone’s phone calls, but you couldn’t see what they were wearing unless you walked around.  Cubicles inhibited communication between employees because you had to walk around or go into a conference room to collaborate.
As of late, designers are getting more creative and creating compromises that facilitate communication with some privacy.  The new designs may give the illusion of privacy, but everyone can still hear each others’ calls.  Not that that is a bad thing — it keeps people focused on work when they are at work.  Circling back to Taylor efficiency.
Next time you walk in to an office, you may ponder — just  how is this design effecting communication?