Is the “Open Office” Still King?


Through all our years of marketing for real estate, we’ve seen trends come and go, and we’ve developed a certain understanding of the industry. But our clients and connections who work in real estate every day have, of course, a greater sense than we do. As we begin putting our thoughts to paper (or Google doc), we’ll be opening up a dialogue and encouraging responses from well-respected real estate professionals.


“Creative space,” the nickname for open office layouts, is becoming more and more a misnomer, given these spaces have come to represent more than creativity. The modern office without cubicles has come to symbolize a business’ philosophy and corporation’s culture - one that makes a major difference in supporting employees.

These creative, lounge-spotted, hipster hangout spaces are part of a growing revolution within business–and not just for startups and tech companies. They indicate a new level of collaboration and transparency in the corporate world at large. And often they’re an important, innovative and even sometimes overdone play at how to engage, recruit and retain those infinitely complex Millennials. For a few years now, big business has put an unprecedented emphasis on employee satisfaction. After all, keeping employees happy affects a business’ culture, reputation, and bottom line.

The Reality

Everyone wants to be like the famed Groupon or Google, with hammocks, ice cream bars, and air hockey tables. But the reality is, an open office doesn’t work for every company, especially companies that have long had traditional offices. The noise and lack of personal space in these offices have been studied and proven to be distracting, with the close proximity often causing stress, anxiety, and an easier spread of colds and the flu. Not to mention overwhelm for the reclusive types, and interruptions for the linear and focused.

We attended a recent Biz Now event on Creative Spaces at 311 S Wacker, and one panelist talked about a company that found that their recreational spaces were surprisingly populated by the non-performers. The spots had been nicknamed “firing corners.” In another case, a panelist discussed how wide open and seemingly empty loft offices are not necessarily cheaper than traditional offices. And that often the stimulating environments with tree houses and game rooms didn’t answer the need they were trying to.

So how do you know if an open office is right for your company?

Give the people what they want (not what’s hip)

Welcome to a sliding scale between private cubicles and a communal table. We believe companies need to consider a balance, such as separate workstations but without partitions, or a completely open space with the inclusion of a few “quiet rooms” or cones of silence and solitude.

Your space is for your people. Make your design choices carefully after polling your staff. Put it more in their hands than in the hands of the architect. Make it about culture, not fun and funky accessories.

A Company’s Space is an Expression of its Brand

Space should be an expression of the brand, a statement about the company’s mission, values, and promise. It can carry messages in a strong, experiential way. For example, we created a graffiti wall, giveaway display and floor-to-ceiling wall graphics for Transwestern’s Chicago office, to help them create a space that reflected their culture and brand. Just as much as it’s for improving employee satisfaction, a remodel or redesign should also be leveraged as a branding and marketing tool.

So is the open office still king? Depends who you ask. But however you design your space, just make sure it’s ideal for your people, your business goals, and your brand.