How Long Before Barbarian Group Tears Down Its SuperDesk And Erects Actual Offices?

When I was in 4th grade, my school decided it would be a good idea to tear down the walls between classrooms allowing multiple classrooms to "engage" with one another and to create cute little workspaces where kids could "explore" their "creativity." It was an unmitigated disaster which resulted in kids goofing off, becoming distracted and wasting valuable time that could otherwise be put to use getting educated.

In the nineties, apparently unaware of the earlier failed open classroom concept and in the biggest collective middle finger raising to their parents who suffered through the open classroom debacle, businesses decided to jump on the open concept platform. Mostly, it was in reaction to research which claimed open concept workspace would foster creativity and community. 

Today, 70 percent of American workspace is open concept according to the International Facilities management Association. Perhaps the poster child of open office space in the advertising industry is Barbarian Group's SuperDesk, an impressive-looking 4,400-square-foot continuous desk at which 100 Barbarian Group employees sit.

In 2013, the Journal of Environmental Psychology released a study which in December of last year was summed up in a Washington Postarticle by Lindsey Jaufman who wrote: "Many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues -- the problem that open offices profess to fix -- was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

And this week, a Huffington Post article notes that some companies are rethinking the whole open concept thing. Marketing firm Groove, which has embraced the open office concept, also realizes that the concept isn't necessarily a good thing all the time. Groove CEO Ethan Griffin says, “People have different needs throughout their day -- times they want to collaborate and times where they just need to think by themselves.” And so you know what Griffin did? Erected walls and built private workspaces. Maybe he heard his parent's horror stories or lived through his own.

Are things shifting? Are businesses coming to the realization that a giant playground with no walls isn't necessarily the most conducive environment for conducting grownup business? It would seem so. Of the shift back to private work spaces, Sonya Dunfer, a director at design firm Gensler says "Every new space we’re designing has these kinds of areas.” 

Barbarian Group's SuperDesk is super awesome. But a growing body of research (which could have been avoided had everyone just listened to my 4th grade teacher who had zero love for the open classroom concept) increasingly points to the fact that open offices do make it harder to get work done. 

Cool offices are awesome and we all know ad agencies love cool office space. But one does have to wonder just how much more productive an agency would be if it were housed in a space with boring, old school offices with doors



2 comments about "How Long Before Barbarian Group Tears Down Its SuperDesk And Erects Actual Offices?".
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  1. Carol Lewis from Riverton Media LLC, February 13, 2015 at 1:36 p.m.

    Client confidentiality is a huge issue. An agency with a true client partnership has a lot of data and information that needs to be very closely protected, which is much more difficult in an open office. You can't assume that everyone in hearing distance has the client's best interests in mind.

  2. rich siegel from Rich Siegel Worldwide, February 16, 2015 at 3:08 p.m.

    Uh, duh:

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