New Facebook HQ. Like..?

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Facebook recently opened their new HQ in California. The Frank Gehry designed building is basically one massive open plan office. It will be the largest open floor plan in the world, housing over 2,800 ‘engineers’.

The Wall Street Journal describes the interior: “Under majestic, 22-foot-high ceilings (more than twice the standard office height), shiny ducts run beneath raw-steel beams from which dangle a profusion of wiring tubes that attach like a mosquito’s proboscis to clusters of six or eight desks. The building space is a soaring fishbowl, a contiguous 434,000 square feet on one floor. No one has a private office, so that everyone, including Mr. Zuckerberg, is on view, accessible. Yet this monumental vastness is surprisingly matter-of-fact, seemingly the product of pure process rather than of design. The no-nonsense metal, glass and white-stucco exterior bumps in and out, punctuated by wide, utilitarian stairways and switchbacking ramps. Only a pair of acrobatic lobby stairways, shimmying in gravity-defying curves and facets of plywood, suggest the hand of the architect.”

So far so hipster. But how will that affect the people who work in the space? Increasingly, research tells us that open plan offices are not the ideal working environment for the majority of people.

Open work environments are supposed to foster greater communication and chance meetings, which in turn would lead to more creativity, teamwork and the breakdown of silos. However, as Forbes Magazine points out, many people who work in open environments have issues with:

  • The increased noise from phone calls and casual conversations impedes their ability to concentrate and focus
  • Germs spread more readily and workers are more likely to get sick
  • The lack of privacy (whether to take a call or to scratch an itch) increases stress and reduces morale

Indeed, many researchers are beginning to agree:

  • Dr Vinesh Oommen completed a literature review and concluded, “In 90 per cent of the research, the outcome of working in an open-plan office was seen as negative, with open-plan offices causing high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover.” He goes on to note that research shows that influenza virus is more quickly passed as well.
  • Dr. Craig Knight suggests that traditional office environments may increase individual wellbeing by 32% and office productivity by 15% (The Secret Life of Buildings)
  • Professors Anne-Laure Fayard and John Weeks point out in their article, “Who Moved My Cube” (Harvard Business Review, July 2011), “Some studies show that employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.

As TNW news put it: “Anyone who’s worked in an open plan office – which is most people now – will know how difficult it can be to concentrate with so much hustle and bustle happening around you. Imagine how much harder that’ll be in Facebook’s vast hangar for hackers.”

For now we’ll have to wait to see if Facebook engineers will ‘like’ working in the “largest open floor plan in the world” or whether it will cut their productivity and job satisfaction.

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