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"Me" Space Versus "We" Space

Ever get the feeling that your workspace is shrinking? Well, you’re probably right. Recently, I spoke with CNN about this topic. And the shrinking trend is only expected to continue.

Sounds like it won’t be long until we’re all packed in like sardines, huh? But the situation is not quite as dire as it sounds. Space isn’t necessarily going away, it’s just getting redistributed from individual assigned space or “ME” space to shared spaces or “WE” space. Less space per person can mean better space for all.

Devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablet computers are everywhere, and combined with readily available Wi-Fi allow employees to work from conference rooms, cafeterias, coffee shops around the corner, and home. An office worker no longer has to be tethered to a desk to do their job. Instead they can choose the most effective place to support whatever task is at hand.

Getting a big corner office may still be the ultimate mark of office prestige, but having the flexibility to work from various locations throughout the day is increasingly valued. The coveted corner office may no longer be in the office, but at home.

In fact, I would posit that if you asked any office worker under the age of 35 the following question:

What would you rather have?

a. A big, private corner office with a desktop PC and landline phone


b. A small, open workspace but with a laptop computer and mobile phone and the ability to work wherever you want?

The answer would be (B) every time.

I say this because I recently was part of a Gensler team that completed a new workplace project for United Business Media (UBM) in San Francisco. We created an open work environment that allows mobility and fosters collaboration. The ability to move the space from large, individual “ME” space and transfer the square footage to “WE” space for collaboration was part of a change that has transformed the workspace into a young, dynamic work environment.

However, since I really prefer to engage you all in the dialog, YOU tell me! (And if you are really brave, you can let us know if you are over 35, but you do not have to).

Erik Lucken
Lisa Bottom is a Principal in Gensler’s San Francisco office focused on work with law firms and professional practice organizations, as well as participation in the Product Design practice. Her passion is developing a culture of excellence in client service. Contact her at lisa_bottom@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (8)

Both! But if we're talking reality, having tasted the mobile life I can honestly say I would never take a job that would require me to be office-bound again. Work and freedom have traditionally been opposites, now they can be on the same team. Awesome.
02.18.2011 | Unregistered CommenterErikL
I prefer the moblie option. Not only do I prefer the flexibility, but I think it provides employees with a greater sense of empowerment. When a company owner says, "I trust you enough to allow you to work where you are most productive," it shows trust and also holds employees accountable for their decisions. It tells an employee that you don't feel the need to see them sitting at a desk to know they're doing their job, but rather, you trust them and are confident they'll get the job done. I'm still a bit torn on the "WE" space. One of the things I notice about the "WE" space is how difficult it can be to have a phone conversation without worrying about background noise/interference. Relocating into a huddle room or small conference room every time I need to make a call takes away from productivity. While it's great for collaborative work efforts, it can be a bit difficult if you're next to a loud talker.
02.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterG.
I do enjoy having my private space with the landline and the computer given how much I travel for work. Now, that said, yes I am WAY over 35 and sharing open space, brainstorming, sharing information and the ability to have my computer working anywhere is great; up to a point. The ability to interact with others when I am teaching or working on a project is great. Yet there are still times I need to close the door to be able to concentrate or carry on a private telephone conversation or have a private talk if the information is on a need to know or confidential nature.
02.19.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark Johnson
I like the idea of an open, collaborative environment. Sitting at the same desk staring at the computer quickly becomes mundane and too routine. I'd much rather have a laptop, in an open environment where I can get up, talk to people, show off a new idea, or just get a quick change of scenery. However, I do agree that having a personal space that you can go to when necessary for privacy, focus, a phone call, etc. is also important, so it would be great to have both.
02.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterDamon Hastings
I want a mashup - An office with a laptop computer and mobile phone and the ability to work wherever I want. I would also add WHENEVER to that list.

And that's generally what we have at Knowledge Architecture, minus the "big and corner" part. There is a difference between collaboration and interruption. An open door (or green IM status) says collaborate, I'm here to help you and your ideas get better. A closed door (or a red IM status) says I'm thinking, and unless the building is on fire, send an e-mail and I'll check in with you when I come up for air.

BTW, I'm 33.

I want chocolate cake
03.1.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJB
I think you need to think of the industry involved. Does it require confidentiality and do clients need to perceive their product is "safe." We work in a design office, in which collaboration is paramount and mobile areas work well. However, when new clients tour the office, we can't have confidential work in progress strewn all over and open to inquisitive eyes. From the associate point of view, some privacy is required. I was in a no-wall office last week and I shuddered at the thought of calling and scheduling a medical appointment or braying out my credit card information in such a space. If Starbucks was the answer to everything, we'd all be there now.
10.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna
I've always found a good pair of earplugs to be essential equipment when working in a collaborative environment--for those times when concentration is needed but private rooms not available.

Preferably bright yellow or orange earplugs. Provides a signal to others, but without excessive assertiveness....
07.29.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan Jansenson

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