- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a new Northwestern Mutual building will have open office spaces, with views of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. The company's facilities operations collected 4,000 surveys from employees for their input into the layout and use of space.
- Managers and workers will share more open space to promote collaboration. According to the Sentinel, employees can control their work stations by configuring how they want to arrange their furniture and the height of desks, chairs and dividers.
- The mostly glass building features furniture on wheels for easy rearrangement and meeting changes, says the Sentinel, as well as desks with double monitors and treadmills that allow employees to exercise while working.
Northwestern Mutual is among a growing list of companies that want to create more collaborative work environments by replacing walled-in or divider-separated offices with open-air workspaces. In October 2016, General Electric Co. went office-free in its new downtown Cincinnati complex — a sign that such arrangements are gaining momentum nationwide.
But office-free work environments aren't for every workplace. A Hacker Noon study found that 58% of respondents said they needed a private space to problem solve. Another 54% said their current workplace was distracting. Northwestern surveyed its own employees to get their opinion of office-free space and their input for constructing such a space, which may help alleviate some of the concerns employees could have. Employers considering going office-free might want to do the same.
Architects reportedly are looking to neuroscientists for direction on office design to improve employee wellness. The approach stems from a belief that more natural light and connections with nature will lead to improved focus and health overall.
An interesting note: The "Women in the Workplace" study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. suggests that the traditional office layout works best in top-down management cultures, which favor men, and that open-office spaces favor the more collaborative nature of women. But these aren't necessarily scientific studies, meaning employers should find out what office layout best suits their workforce, environment and budget.