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OM in the News: Layout and the Shrinking Office

January 21, 2011

Office layout may not be the most exciting topic we teach in Chapter 9, but  an article in The  New York Times (Jan.19,2011) will definitely catch your students’ attention. Titled “Office Work Space is Shrinking”, students will discover that their future office may be a lot smaller than they anticipated, but that’s not all bad.  As employees become more mobile and less tied to their desks, the work space per employee nationwide (across all industries) has dropped from 400 sq. ft. in 1985 to 250 sq. ft. today. And it’s heading towards 150 sq. ft. within 10 years.

“A lot of thinking about the office has changed”, says the president of Steelcase, which is the leading office furniture maker. “The work setting was a reflection of your status.  A job focuses more on collaboration  than on the individual now”.

Intel, featured in the Times article, was known for decades for its endless rows of gray cubicles, low ceilings, and flourescent lighting. Intel was never one of those tech companies to offer beanbag chairs, designer desks, or pinball machines. But in the last 2 years, the company has completed a major relayout of over one million sq. ft. of office space. Gray walls are now yellow, purple, and white,  cubicle walls are low enough to see  other employees, and lounges have been equipped with flat-screen TVs, comfy chairs, and sleek kitchens. The whole idea was to get people to work more in groups, rather than be isolated at their desks.

This also saves money. With less space needed per person, one newly layed-out floor at Intel holds 1,000 employees, up from 600. In some departments where employees are on the road a lot, two people may be assigned to one desk. Even tradition-bound firms in accounting and banking are embracing the open-floor layouts. The thinking is that downsizing makes people interact more and become more productive.

Discussion questions:

1. What are the plusses and minuses of the new office layout concept.?

2. Which system do students prefer–private offices(or cubicles) vs. open floor plans?

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 30, 2013 11:45 pm

    Layout can make such a difference in how the space flows and functions, as well as how employees interact with each other.

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