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Consulting Engineers

Why open plan isn’t always the best option

The new iPhone has been released with the usual fanfare, but what interested me about this particular launch, is that it was done from the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple Park in Cupertino, California.

It’s a custom-built £3.8 billion development – part of a modern “campus” designed specifically for Apple by Foster + Partners – and yet there are rumours online that staff are unhappy.

People have been quoted as saying they’re considering quitting working at Apple because they don’t like the open plan offices that are essentially huge open workspaces with shared tables.

When you think about it, that makes sense. A lot of people who work at Apple are going to be technologically minded introverts – engineers and developers – who need their own space. They’ll also need to be able to focus and concentrate for long periods of time.

People often think that introversion and extroversion simply dictate whether you’re shy and quiet, or whether you’re the life and soul of the party. But it’s more complex than that and it should be taken into account in workspace design.

Introverts get their energy from having their own space, and time alone, whereas extroverts get their energy from being with others. And, of course, there are also productivity issues with the distractions that are inevitable in an open plan space.

With a project created from scratch, such as the Apple Park, it would make sense to create open plan spaces as well as spaces where individuals can work alone. But in older buildings and smaller spaces it’s often impractical to offer this.

In our office we get round it being open plan with the use of headphones. When my engineers are concentrating and don’t want to be disturbed they listen to their own music. This means they can immerse themselves in a project and stay focused, meaning they’re much more productive.

And then when we need to interact, getting feedback or input from each other, the headphones come off.

As they’ve already built the offices at the Apple Park, the headphones solution might work well for them, helping their staff to avoid interruptions.

If you have any projects you’d like our input on, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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