DALLAS -- Privacy might be a valued commodity in some circumstances and situations, but a growing number of workplaces believe decreased privacy might yield greater employee productivity and creativity.
At Dallas-based advertising company The Richards Group, their new 18-story building with stunning views of the city was constructed with that very concept in mind.
“Wherever you stand or sit, you have views in three directions,” said founder Stan Richards. “Since there are no interior walls, it is as open an environment you can find.”
The open office concept is a stark contrast to the cubicle setting The Richards Group used prior to moving into its new Uptown Dallas building three years ago. All workers now sit at uniform, bench-style workstations separated only by 18-inch high partitions.
It's the same setup on each floor, and an open staircase connects those floors, leaving no barriers between any of the 725 employees. Conference rooms are available for conversations needing privacy but, with the exception of the chief financial officer, no one employee has an enclosed individual workspace.
The arrangement accomplishes multiple purposes, according to Richards, and one of them is equality.
“Regardless of what you do or pay grade, we have no 'less important' people.”
That includes Richards himself. His office space is larger because he often hosts meetings, but it's not enclosed, allowing everyone to hear or see what business is being conducted.
But although the trend is growing, the original concept of open office is not necessarily new and is rooted in the idea that less privacy breeds more collaboration.
Ron Newton is an author and workplace culture expert who said the concept started generations ago overseas.
“The concept of ‘knocking down the walls' in the workplace took place with European and Asian influence,” said Newton.
By knocking down the walls, in theory, workers with less private space are more likely to take part in activities and conversations around them. The increased collaboration could motivate better ideas, creativity, and progress.
For industries like advertising and IT production, the concept is growing more popular, according to Newton.
“It is the coming wave and it is being driven by the millennial generation, and the thought from older managers that this is what millennials are demanding.”
At The Richards Group, they take the philosophy even further. Different departments are intermingled throughout the office, meaning neighboring workers on each side of a workplace are likely doing a totally different job.
Diane Fannon is a 17-year veteran at The Richards Group and thinks the new setup breeds a certain excitement.
“There is an energy level when you walk in the building,” Fannon said. “You have immediate conversations not just with the person next to you and across from you, but the person four seats down. That would not happen in a cube.”
But Newton warns the open office idea is not conducive to all workplaces, and he cites a recent study showing 54 percent of American workers say they need privacy to get work accomplished.
“Research shows the vast majority of work done in workplaces is accomplished by those who are not social butterflies and might react negatively to an open office concept.”
Some studies indicate open offices might actually have an adverse effect.
Although Stan Richards admits worker productivity can be a difficult thing to quantify, he believes there's been a change based on The Richards Group’s first few years in its new space.
“I know we are more productive here than we have been in the past," he said.