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Will Free-Range Workspace Work In Pittsburgh?

Free-Range Workspace in Pittsburgh

 

It seems the latest trend in office furniture is the free-range workspace. Are free-range workspaces the answer to the most satisfying work environment? If you aren’t familiar with the concept; this is where a workspace is laid out with a variety of common areas along with some set aside private spaces such as “phone booths” and small private conference spaces to allow privacy when needed. There are many choices of areas to set up with varying levels of privacy. The key element is there are no assigned work stations. No employee has an area such as a workstation, office or table specifically to themselves.

Each organization is different, they have different people, and will certainly have different goals for their space. This makes it hard to make a definitive ruling. I also haven’t had the chance to explore the free-range workspace concept with a client yet. I’m sure I have plenty more to discover. I wonder if the results would be different in other regions. Would it work well in a city like Portland better than it would in Pittsburgh? There are certainly many cultural differences in every region. I think this may affect the willingness to try this concept but internal office community struggles seem to be consistent no matter where you live. I’m struggling to find data on the subject but I’m hoping to create my own, at least until there is significant research. I’ll just layout some initial thoughts for now.

First for the positives;

  1. Free Range could lower your furniture costs. In a traditional office space, you’d have to provide each person with an exclusive space. If you have 50 employees that’s 50 stations plus communal areas; conference rooms, lounge areas etc. Common areas typically cost less per person than individual workstations. I’d take a wild guess and say you could double your communal areas and reduce your individual workstations by 40% assuming you would provide these as unassigned areas. Keep in mind one individual work station can cost as much as a communal area that accommodates 8 to 10 people if planned correctly.

  2. Increased interaction. free-range workspace is just that, free range! You must mill around to find your spot. This concept exposes one to be in close contact with most of their co-workers. You could possibly be working next to a different employee every day. This not only increases comradery but it exposes each employee to their co-worker’s pains and struggles as they are more likely to overhear or engage in these conversations. This could increase empathy of what each department must go through. It can also foster new ideas from those outside the department. Someone that sees the forest rather than the trees can be helpful.

 

Now the negatives;

  1. Nesting. From what I can tell Free-Range Workspaces do not give a person the opportunity to nest. I once read a study on the topic, it discussed the psychology behind having personal belongings in your office or at your station. There was significant research proving people that haven’t nested are more likely to quit. The thought process being you aren’t invested if you haven’t coated your work space with pictures of dog, your Steelers Bobble Head, and your “Dancing With The Stars” autographed poster of Juliana Hough. Don’t judge me, you nest your way, I’ll nest mine! I believe this is more of a signal of an employee’s intent, if an employee doesn’t plan to stay they won’t nest. Either way, an employee is less likely to quit on a whim if they are well nested.

  2. Sense of belonging. I believe Free-Range Workspaces can cause some to feel as though they aren’t valued. There is just something about hiring a new employee and giving them a space to call their own. It shows they are valued, that they can maintain a certain amount of belonging knowing you’ve obligated a space that is just for them. This can be as small as a table and chair.

  3. Accountability and organization. How do you hold others accountable? Depending on the size of the company how do you find your co-workers? Roam the office asking others? Text them and hope they reply? I believe this will cut down on productivity and hurt the concentration of others in the office. How do you spot the people that are habitually late? These can be issues in any office but I feel it can be worse without the structure of an organized office.

Every company should develop their own corporate culture, experiment and decide what’s best for you. My opinion is that a hybrid of free range and structured work space works best. At least that seems to be what’s made my clients the happiest. As stated in the beginning, these are just my initial thoughts. Once I’ve worked with a few clients that use this method I could gather a better opinion. What do you think? Have you been a part of a free-range space? I’d love to hear your experience. Please comment or e-mail me at bmarzka@naturaloffice.net.