One thing’s for certain:  offices are changing in ways that would make Roger Sterling pour another drink and settle in for an afternoon nap. Curtained conference rooms and three-piece suits have morphed into gray hoodies and rumble seats, and the mysterious schedules of senior executives have been unveiled by the new norm of working out in the open.

In an open office, we’ve eliminated the corner office, packed up the cubicles, and unhinged all forms of separation between task areas, all in the name of collaboration and team building.

But is office design really a one-size-fits-all project? Can we build better office culture by tearing down walls? And on the other hand, can we create a better environment by giving everyone their own private workspace?

In a recent article, The Chicago Grid called out a list of frustrations that some are encountering with today’s more fluid workspace — among them, the need for quiet areas and other zones that offer complete privacy for phone calls or serious focus work.

Research shows that in many instances, productivity is being lost at the altar of the “open office.” Yet our well-being does benefit in this environment thanks to the relationships built over donuts in the break room.

So the obvious question is: Can we have both?

I believe the answer is yes, if done wisely and with intention. Our office, for example, is designed with zones that are task-specific. Furthermore, our office culture supports the movement and flexibility needed to make these zones work. Here’s how we do it:

·         Collaboration Zones provide a natural crossroads for coworkers to meet and share ideas. By nature they operate at a higher volume that the two other areas, conjuring the buzz of your favorite restaurant and inspiring the kind of creativity that’s able to propel your business. Collaboration zones can be as informal as a big table in the kitchen or a more formal conference room – whatever is needed to bring people together.


·         Fun Zones have been made famous by companies like Klout, who have found a way to elevate gaming systems, ping pong, and snack food to an art form. These zones support the kind of activities that make people love coming to work; they also help your team to gel and build the kind of rapport and camaraderie that makes thinking and creating together a magical experience.

·         Quiet Zones are spaces to go to think and get things done, offering room to stretch out and focus on the work at hand while still keeping friends nearby for a quick brainstorm. It’s important to provide a space that copes with the occasional passerby but does not have music playing or a copy machine humming in the background.


Private Zones are places to hide away when you’ve got serious work to do and don’t have time for interruptions. Private zones politely send the message, “Don’t bother me,” while giving you the real estate and head space needed to be productive. Ideal private zones may have doors and remind you of more traditional office spaces, except that they’re generally intended for one person only. Think “closet with wi-fi and great lighting.”


Zones ensure that people with varying work styles can find a good fit for both their personality and their task list in your office. With careful planning and intentional design, you can ensure that your company hits the sweet spot of enviable office culture and productivity levels that enable you to contribute to the world in positive, inspiring ways.

Kevin Kuske is chief brand anthropologist for Turnstone, a Steelcase brand that exists to unlock human promise through the amplification of entrepreneurship. Turnstone is inspired by the spirit of small business, and its primary focus is on creativity-based work and providing solutions that help workers become more productive, engaged and inspired.

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