To have a desk or not have a desk? Advantages and disadvantages to personalized work space at the office

It has been the main working assumption that employees need a personal desk to make their own. However this may not be necessary for every office environment. Are there advantages to working in shared communal spaces and what would that look like? How would this choice impact company culture?

Here in Silicon Valley open work space has become the standard trend. Without cubicles there's a sense of connectedness and community. Since everyone is out there together, everyone is equally valued. This energy can inspire purpose, motivation, and accountability.

How a company arranges open seating may be based around team, project, or client. This depends on the business and where the most direct communication is needed. To increase ease of contact between collaborators means less emails and faster internal updates. There is a level of flexibility in this model because teams, projects, and clients shift. Furthermore, employees often work with multiple teams, projects, and clients. Therefore deciding the best method for seating has to take into account this fluidity.

Regardless of organizing around collaboration, there are also times when employees need to retreat to private work areas. Open office design should always have a variety of zones such as conference rooms, casual seating, or partially walled spaces.

Seating choice empowers employees to take care of their personal well-being by deciding which space will support their most creative and productive self.

Perkins+Will performed an in-house experiment where part of an office opted to let go of their personal seating and choose a new place to sit every day. The goal was to explore better use of space and how this could benefit the employee, company, environmental footprint, and research about mobility in the workplace. Some things they discovered: 1. This could make it difficult to find each other. 2. They needed more personal storage. 3. There was low cleaning accountability. And 4. Technological needs vary, and with this seating model either every desk is equipped the same, or there are technology created zones of work.

In this way without any seating coordination, it may be difficult for teams to collaborate and employees may waste time carrying items, cleaning, and gaining access to proper technology.

Seating arrangements based on team, project, or client, allow a company to better internal communication and thus productivity. While this is a flexible model, employees have a desk for a period of time where they can keep their work organized and place grounding personal mementos. However inevitably employees will be working with other teams, projects, and clients and so have to find other communal spaces to gather. With the popularity of open work space, desks are no longer personal silos, and yet how a company chooses to organize people together is still up for exploration. Just how personal or communal a space needs to be depends on the business and employee needs.