Has Steelcase designed the answer to the 'problem' of the open office?

brody pair of seats
© Steelcase

It is all the rage these days to dump on the open office and yell "offices for everyone" like they do at Fast Company. The Washington Post says The open-office trend is destroying the workplace. But as I have noted before in Open offices for all; it is more flexible, adaptable and green:

Open offices are more efficient in terms of use of space, more flexible and adaptable. They offer the employee more opportunity to work from home or in teams as required. All of these articles are wishful thinking, the private office is not coming back. In fact, it is probably going the way of the phone booth.

But sometimes a little more privacy would be nice. Steelcase has introduced a sort of odd duck in the Brody WorkLounge. It "transforms under-utilized in-between spaces into covetable destinations" – interesting choice of word, covetable.

It is "designed for your brain. The ability to focus is a real challenge for today's workers and students. We get interrupted or distracted every 11 minutes and it takes over 23 minutes to get back on track." Yet they show a guy sitting in it with his laptop open while he is looking at his phone. Who is distracted by what? Certainly not the open office.

In their insights, Steelcase notes that "people need more than chairs alone to get their work done. They need supportive surfaces for their notebooks and mobile devices. And those devices need power." Yet the image that they show is of three people sitting close together facing each other, ignoring the supportive table and chairs behind them, because people are inherently social. They may be looking at their phones and computers instead of each other at this particular moment, but they made a conscious choice to cluster.

The Brody is a lovely idea: a comfy loungy chair with decent work surfaces, storage and power. On Wired, Margaret Rhodes calls it "one of many designs intended to counterbalance the trend of the open plan office – a respite away from floating chatter and collaboration stations that invite coworkers to linger."

The occasional respite is nice. But I still think that the nicest office I ever worked in was the lobby of the Ace Hotel in New York, where everyone was comfy and working away in the privacy of their own Mac. We gather in offices and for a reason: to collaborate. We work from coffee shops and lobbies for a reason: we are social animals. Otherwise we might as well all just work from home. And read Lance Hosey here on why open offices are dramatically more sustainable.

Has Steelcase designed the answer to the 'problem' of the open office?
Their new Brody WorkLounge does look comfy.

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