Last week I wrote about why tearing down walls doesn’tintegrate agencies. It gave rise to my own thoughts on the subject of open plan seating.
There are pros and cons with open plan seating. I could take either side, but I think my preference is for most people having their own private space. My daughter, Liz Gumbinner, who is an EVP creative director at Deutsch, says that I am old fashioned because almost every ad agency has open plan seating in one form or another. And it has been this way for many, many years.
On the pro side, agencies save money by not constructing and having to move walls. They tell me that clients and new business prospects like to hear the hum of the office which is far more evident when there are no walls. Popular wisdom is that ad agencies believe open plans foster more interaction and therefore, more creativity.
Creative people have always worked in teams. So when they work, mostly they go to some private space where they can create without interruption. And therein lies my issue.
I believe that open plan seating originated in Japan. As I recall, the first agency to employ open plan seating was the old Chiat/Day. When Jay Chiat did this in the 1980’s, it was quite an innovation here in the States. Its purpose was to foster interaction between people and to generate more creativity. His agency always pushed the boundaries of creativity and open plan was a major innovation and a reflection of that philosophy.
But the U.S. is not Japan.
Japan is a homogeneous, highly structured society. Open plan was an effort to get workers there to talk to each other and to interact together – something which may not be necessary here in the U.S. Whether we have walls in our offices or not, we are much more open than the Japanese.
Open plan was adopted, first by the more creatively driven agencies, and during the last decade, as the big agencies have had their leases expire and they have moved to new space, they, too are moving to open plan. What was right for Chiat/Day in the 1980’s, may not necessarily translate to all agencies. Especially today.
I honestly believe that tearing down walls does not necessarily generate creativity or even good ideas. It doesn’t foster interaction among people, except those immediately adjacent to each other. Interaction is something which has to be in the DNA of a company and in its people.
If I were an account person today, I would still not want to listen to my cohorts talking to their clients or their friends. I would not want to hear the hum which accompanies open seating. I would want the privacy to think, to strategize – to create.
I am curious to know whether you think that open plan seating works for your agency and, if so, does it work for all departments?