Watercooler, coffee kitchen, home office or open space?

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Watercooler conversation

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with the phrase work-life balance, as it seems to assume that work is not life. However, maybe that’s the honesty of the phrase, as work often isn’t.

Recently, due to the pandemic, the topic of work quality has gained a lot of attention. Depending on their line of work, people seem to have become less tolerant towards unsatisfactory to bad working conditions, underappreciation, bad pay or all together. The Great Resignation, people quitting their jobs for various reasons in droves in the last two years, stands as witness to this.

There have been many disputes around how to continue with work after the pandemic.The lockdown situation enforced many changes in ways of working, and rapidly. What first felt like an involuntary, sometimes even reluctant, move into home office for instance – something we had to do to keep things going – eventually led to improved work situations for many employees (especially office workers). With bosses asking their employees to come back to their offices, many people are not so willing to give up these improvements like bigger organizational flexibility, fewer distractions, more time to focus, and fewer hours spent driving, to name just a few.

In this context, the following text from Harvard Business Review offers insights into office designs and how they improve or disrupt different kinds of tasks. It is based on studies and experiments investigating what kind of office architecture is the best for what kind of activity.

Instead of merely exchanging opinions based on personal experiences and preferences – what bosses or employees respecively believe is best for the company – the studies summarized in this text offer insights into questions like: Does the open office really lead to more collaboration? What is best for meaningful communication? Where should we go or be if we need to concentrate? The article is from 2019, so pre-pandemic. Maybe some things have changed, but the basic findings and tenets I believe are still valid.

The Truth about Open Space Offices

On BBC Worklife the following article from June 2021 discusses the question: Why presenteeism wins out over productivity.


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