At some companies, you’re more likely to see a unicorn prancing through the office than the CEO casually chatting with an employee. This wizard-behind-the curtain executive mentality is losing traction, as many organizations continue to see the value in open office plans.
The concept of an open office—where executives live and work among the masses—may seem cutting edge, but according to Herman Miller Workplace Strategist Margaret Serrato, the idea is nothing new.
“If you look at images from offices from the 1880s, all the way up through probably 1940, you’ll see that everybody worked out at big tables,” Serrato says. “Some owners would have their own office, but,” Serrato added, “more often they’d simply have a roll-top desk to lock up the payroll at night.”
Why the continued interest in open-office plans? Research shows that locating executives near employees increases daily communication and speeds up the decision making process. The need for formal, time-consuming meetings decreases, and brilliant ideas hatch during cookie breaks, coffee pot chats, and lunchtime conversations. While most offices fall somewhere in the middle on the private-to-open spectrum, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the more open the office, the more collaborative and innovative employees and executives become.
For many technology, social media, and Internet companies, open office plans are integral to strategy. You won’t find their C-suite executives enshrined in inaccessible corner offices, blinds closed and doors locked. Executives are in the trenches, working at multi-person benches alongside everyone else, or even going completely mobile, working from a different location around the office each day. The resulting workplaces breed collaboration, invention, creativity, and fun.