Making space work

Open spaces have become a hot office trend, credited with stimulating better interaction among employees. However, analysts show that both open and closed spaces have their merits and pitfalls.

When someone says ‘intern’ I get the idea of a lowly, virtually sub-human assistant who would be lucky to get even a tiny desk with a notepad and pen. However, American broadcaster NBC blew my preconceived notions right out the window. On my first day as the News Recruiter Intern I was presented with a large cubicle, a personal computer with not one but three large screens, a telephone with individual buttons to each member of upper management, and a Starbucks coffee hotline. Clearly, office space at NBC screams luxury, even for the very bottom of the working pyramid. However, the real question is, did this environment make me a more productive intern?

The answer is no.

While watching NBC channels as I replied to emails made me feel like the ideal 21st-century employee, it didn’t really inspire me to work harder or go beyond my job description of answering phones and typing memos. In fact, it was just distracting.

So, how do companies find the right mix of traditional office spaces and creative spaces that bring life to confined working environments?

Office furniture manufacturing company Knoll did a study in 2008 that highlighted why both spaces can work effectively to enhance working experience and output.

However, the real question is did this environment make me a more productive intern?

Open office space

 -There is a sense of community that an open work environment can bring that can foster mentoring between younger and older employees.

-Open space makes it easier for employees to communicate and exchange information. Technology and computer programmers appreciate open space because it eases communication.

-An open workspace means employees are generally in sync with things happening in the office.

Closed, private office

-90% of participants in the Knoll survey said that privacy is the top merit of a closed space.

-Closed spaces have less noise and allow for better concentration.

-Closed offices often have windows and research from the University of California reports positive effects from employees having access to personal windows.

-Closed spaces often give employees confidence as closed offices signify achievement in their careers and that they are climbing up the hierarchy in their line of work.

Closed spaces have less noise and allow for better concentration.

Human resources manager at a Johannesburg media house, Jane Philip, told DESTINY: “Open and closed office spaces have different advantages, so it depends on the type of business as well as the company culture. For example, closed spaces are preferable for positions such as HR and finance to ensure employee information and discussions remain confidential, which is absolutely vital. Open spaces foster openness and encourage colleagues to have more of a team spirit.”

Facebook’s head offices in Palo Alto, California, are a mixture of open plan spaces with large common rooms as pictured below, enhanced by playful graffiti. The overall design stems from the idea of working out of a garage, as many information technology start-ups do, making the environment less corporate and enabling employees to work more fluidly. In addition, the offices have numerous canteens that serve gourmet food daily to all staff members – free of charge.


With Facebook being the leading social media company in the world, it could be said that its model of a relaxed and slightly decadent office environment is working quite well.

Sources: UCLA, Knoll