Howard Dierking

Open Office Layouts, De-personalization, and Mobility

Today opens a new chapter in my experience at Microsoft - my team (and larger group) has made the move from the Microsoft-traditional individual offices to the open office layout (team rooms, more specifically). Now, before I come off as negative, I’ll enumerate some of the things that I really like about the new layout.

Now, the frustrating things at the moment. I say “at the moment” because we did just move in over the weekend, and I’m sure that many things will get resolved over the course of the next few weeks/months.

To summarize, like so many things, I think the vision was awesome and there were issues with the execution. I’m looking forward to seeing these get cleaned up over the next few weeks.

Here’s the larger thing that I’m thinking about with regard to the open space layout: it de-personalizes the individual workspace. Now, before I elaborate, let me say that I think this is intentional and may actually turn out to be a good thing. The hyper-personalization that private offices can create (e.g. “nesting”) can result in teams that stagnate as a result of people staying way too long after they have lost faith in the mission.

However, I’m curious as to whether the de-personalization (or maybe it’s the de-individualization) created by open office layouts has the exact opposite effect and will cause more churn through teams. In order to make the move, the guidance that we were given was that everything needed to be able to fit in 1 box. After today, all of my effects will be able to fit in half of that. As such, I have no real tie to my group or team based on my space. This, then, leaves a) the people, or b) the work itself to keep me here. Again, this seems like a good idea from a purely academic viewpoint. However, at the moment, it feels off, which again, may be a point-in-time problem.

In the end, I suppose that time will tell.