No Easy Answers On The Open Office

Distracting or relaxing? Demotivating or energizing? Healthy or unhealthy?

No one can seem to make up their mind about the open office. One year ago, an article from the New Yorker decried the negative effects of the open office. It reduces productivity, it causes workers to get more sick, it’s noisy and distracting – the list goes on. However, I recently interviewed the designers of a seemingly open office for Airbnb’s customer experience (CX) call center in Portland. First and foremost, they’ve tackled the noise problem with some ingenious architectural countermeasures such as a sound-dampening ceiling. The design also offers privacy when employees want it: individual desks and tiny “duck-ins” allow customer service agents to shut out the world when necessary. Other fun concepts, such as an employee-designed “team mantles,” have kept the space fresh and engaging.

I haven’t visited the office personally but the designers claim Airbnb’s employees love it. Perhaps this isn’t so much an “open office” but one simply well-designed to meet the needs of its users. The designers undertook an extensive research phase that helped them address the strengths and errors of the CX agents’ previous offices. When it comes to unique designs such as these, I’m reminded that the best design writing doesn’t quickly categorize and label a building, but rather demonstrates what makes it different and useful to understand.

Link to the Article

Top Image: Airbnb’s Customer Experience Office in Portland. Photo credit Jeremy Bittermann.


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