The open-office trend as we know it began in the 1990s. Responding to new research saying open work environments fostered community and creativity, employers across the country began lowering cubicle walls or getting rid of them entirely. At the same time, computers were growing smaller and flatter, which allowed companies to reduce the size of their employees’ workstations. This led to some managers and even CEOs joining the fray, making the workspace completely communal.
Lately, the open-office trend has come under fire. Apparently, the setup—no walls, no doors, shared workspaces—undermines what the concept was designed to achieve: communication and flow of ideas among employees. According to some research , the open concept decreases employees’ job satisfaction and decreases privacy, which also affects productivity.
Some bosses never left their private offices to begin with; others are just joining the open-office space now. Many have joined the debate by writing op-ed pieces arguing for or against sharing office space with their employees. Here are the takeaways.
Top Reasons Bosses Should Share Workspace with Employees
- Opportunities to Offer Guidance
When the boss is in earshot of the conversations that go on in the office, they can easily provide advice or an opinion without having to schedule a meeting or interrupt workflow.
A good example happened at ShortStack, a Facebook contest App, which prides itself on customer service. When the boss overheard customer service representatives dealing with difficult customer complaints, he was able to jump in on the calls and resolve the issues himself. This was a bonus for the company, plus, the representatives didn’t have to put the customers on hold to ask questions.
This is the opposite of Mad Men, where the “staff” don’t feel comfortable talking to the “executives.” When the boss sits with the staff, anyone can ask them anything at any time. It also makes them privy to daily conversations which often include stories about personal life. This makes the employee-boss relationship friendlier and more open and gives the boss the potential to be a more empathetic leader.
- Meetings are Kept to a Minimum
Since everyone sits together and interacts regularly, there isn’t the need for constant meetings because everyone already knows what is going on. A 30-minute catch up every other week will suffice.
- Gage People’s Strengths
When everyone is working as a team, it is common for people to pick up several types of tasks. This is especially true if you work at a startup or smaller company. When the boss sits among their employees, they can keep an eye on who does what best and realign assignments according to employee strengths and talents. Maybe the accounting person is great with social media. Perhaps the copywriter has great ideas for new features. The boss can make the most of their talent pool when their boots are on the ground.
Why Bosses Should Not Share Space with Their Employees
- It Can Encourage Bad Behavior
Researchers in the Netherlands found that physical distance is a key factor in whether the bad behavior of bosses spreads to their employees. In a series of studies, the researchers found that participants were more likely to treat others unfairly and act unethically when in the close proximity to their bosses if they felt their bosses treated them unfairly.
- It Can Stop Employees from Thinking for Themselves
When your boss is tucked away in their own office, you are more likely to evaluate decisions based on their own merits, rather than mimicking your boss’ behavior. When your boss is sitting right next to you, you may rely on their opinion or way of thinking too much, stunting your own creativity.
- It Can Waste Time
You are less likely to waste time focusing on making a superficial impression and more time doing a fantastic job.
- Creating Clear Boundaries
Although it may seem great to appear friendly and approachable, there is merit to reinforcing the fact that you are their boss, not their friend, and they should think twice before requesting your time. Having your own office enhances your authority.