Did you know the concept of the open office layout was pioneered by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 20th century?
This means that while the open office layout may have begun steadily increasing in popularity about 10 years ago, this approach has actually existed for nearly a century.
Here’s a little background, according to Scientific American:
To promote a more egalitarian environment, Wright and other 20th century modern architects recommended businesses remove walls, eliminate rooms and house the entire workforce in a single space where they could openly communicate and collaborate.
Unfortunately, many organizations corrupted this idea and instead used an open office layout to pack in as many employees as possible, creating what amounted to a corporate assembly line where workers sat at rows of identical desks or tables and performed repetitive tasks.
As part of an effort to bring a bit more humanity to the open office layout, in the 1950s German design group Quickborner introduced the concept of Bürolandschaft, which translates to “office landscape.” Quickborner wanted to foster a more interactive workspace by breaking up the endless rows of desks with organic groupings of desks that were informally separated by file cabinets or plants as opposed to walls.
Unfortunately, just as with the original open office layout, companies warped Quickborner’s approach and began constructing vast and depressing cubicle farms, cramming as many workers into the office as possible to save money, and making everyone miserable in the process.
Even though the good intentions of Bürolandschaft were lost, the concept became the foundation for the next evolution of the office: the agile workplace. The agile workplace responds to the workforce’s need for privacy and flexibility in the workplace.
Here’s how you can optimize the ideas of Bürolandschaft while building a more agile workplace for your employees.
Create a culture of collaboration.
At its core, Bürolandschaft is about creating an environment where employees are encouraged to collaborate and communicate with one another.
To build an agile workplace, members of the workforce should have technologies that allow them to connect with their colleagues and supervisors. This may include videoconferencing software (to help remote employees and on-site employees build a better rapport), project management software (to ensure every person involved in a project is always on the same page) or knowledge management software (to encourage collaboration between employees in the same or different departments).
Enable data accessibility.
One of the main goals of Bürolandschaft is to break down literal and figurative barriers. It is about ensuring employees can more easily share information.
Taking a page from the Bürolandschaft playbook, business leaders should build an agile workplace where employees have access to the data they need at all times, regardless of their physical location. Technology like an integrated workplace management system (IWMS) supports the modern application of Bürolandschaft by connecting employees with the kinds of information that can help them make more confident, data-driven decisions.
An agile workplace built on the concepts of Bürolandschaft should promote a greater sense of freedom and autonomy. In other words, it should be a place where employees don’t feel like just another cog in the wheel.
Activity-based working has taken these principles and modernized them. Rather than assigning employees dedicated workstations, an activity-based working environment provides employees with access to different work areas that are reserved for specific activities, such as collaboration, meetings or just relaxing. Employees can choose the type of space that best suits their needs and what they believe would most help their productivity.
This is an exciting time for office design. The advent of the agile workplace reflects the changing needs of our workforce to be more mobile, collaborative and flexible. Use the ideals of Bürolandschaft, and create an office environment that is truly worthy of your talented workforce.
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