Don’t Get Too Comfortable at That Desk

By STEVE LOHR at The New York Times

Renovated Microsoft offices have a variety of work spaces for employees. Left, a phone-booth-style room for privacy, and right, an isolation room. (Stuart Isett for The New York Times)

Renovated Microsoft offices have a variety of work spaces for employees. Left, a phone-booth-style room for privacy, and right, an isolation room. (Stuart Isett for The New York Times)

First there were individual offices. Then cubicles and open floor plans. Now, there is a “palette of places.”

New office designs are coming to a workplace near you, with layouts meant to cater to the variety of tasks required of modern white-collar workers.

Put another way, it means people don’t sit in just one place.

It’s partly a backlash against the one-size-fits-all mind-set, not to mention the corporate penny-pinching, embodied in the move toward pure open floor plans that packed more workers into less and less space. That idea was supposed to drive collaboration, but many experts agree it often went too far, with row upon row of desks and workbench-style seating more likely to generate ennui than efficiency.

“When used as a generic answer for work space design, it’s terrible,” said David Lathrop, a researcher at Steelcase, a big office furniture maker.

The new model is largely open, but not entirely. Under the revised thinking, breaking down walls to bring people together is good, but so are “team spaces” and standing tables, comfortable couches and movable walls.