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Over the last 10 years, ambitions have grown around workspace design. It’s even become a showcase for attracting and retaining talent (Google’s fun hang-out space, the trendy offices at Deezer, the Evergreen eco-campus of Crédit Agricole, and so on). But do cocoon offices and foosball tables actually impact performance, or are they just promotional tools? How, for example, can workspaces impact team efficiency?

You might think that de-compartmentalizing the workspace is enough to avoid silos, that creating multiple areas of relaxation can stimulate creativity, or that building places for informal exchange will boost cooperation. In truth, your employees are probably not convinced. Some of Apple’s teams, for example, have categorically refused to join the Apple Park campus of Cupertino, the company’s new Californian headquarters1. The breathtaking views of nature and Japanese poufs are not enough to compel them. The reason for this resistance is that massive open workspaces have replaced the private or removable-partition offices that engineers are accustomed to. This campus, which cost $5 billion, was conceptualized by Steve Jobs himself to be a centre of creativity and collaboration that would inspire employees. Was he mistaken?

Providing access to different workspaces for different ways of working

In an open workspace, “employees work next to one another but they do not work together,” Gaël Allain says. “Even worse, they bother each other!” To be successful, employees need both to concentrate and to collaborate. These two activities are antithetical, however, and cannot happen in the same place at the same time. Even during teamwork, there needs to be time for individual reflection. It is precisely this transition from one mode of working to another that makes a collaboration fruitful. A UK study conducted in 2016 by Gensler confirmed this fact: employees innovate more when there is access to spaces that favour different ways of working2.

 

  1. “Apple Park employees revolt over having to work in open-plan offices” by Rima Sabina Aouf (DeZeen, August 2017).
  2. “UK WORKPLACE SURVEY 2016” (Genseler, 2016).

 

Biography

Gaël Allain, Doctor of cognitive psychology and Scientific Director of My Mental Energy Pro. He specializes in the management of mental workload and attention, and advises companies on the subject of digital over-sollicitation. Allain is the Scientific Director of My Mental Energy Pro, and is an associate Research Chair of Talents of Digital Transformation for the Grenoble School of Management. He teaches at the University of Lyon 2 and is an APM expert.

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