Tag Archives: office

reviewing the open Plan office concept

An interesting article in the New Yorker called The Open Office Trap makes a solid case for carefully considering whether an open plan office is right for your business. I still think that for some, it definitely is.

Very few things have a “one size fits all”: it’s unlikely that a particular setup is best for all organisations. In addition, business can have arrangements tailored to the needs of a particular department, and even individual people. Some people work best in a little cocoon, while others thrive in a group.

With the new need to also (re)arrange offices to enable social distancing (re COVID-19), this would generally be simpler and more economic in an open plan rather than a segmented office. With open I don’t mean a cubicle farm, you want sufficient space between people and desks.

I was in charge of configuring a new office space late last year, and it seems that that has worked out really well (even taking new social distancing needs into account). Naturally some aspects are specific to the space you need to work with, but there are some general guidelines that would apply in most places.

Looking “cool” should never be a primary consideration when thinking about office layout. I’ve seen many cool looking offices that are entirely unpractical. What’s the point?

On average, you need about 10m² per person, so if you have 100m², that will fit about 10 people. That doesn’t mean that everyone has a space of 10m² around them, but with walkways and other common areas, it should just about work out.

Two desks facing each other, or islands with 3 or 4 desks, tends to work fairly well. More than two desks in a row tends to cause issues.

Desk sharing is a bad idea, it really frustrates people and stresses them out – it can be acceptable as a very temporary solution when a workforce is growing, but really for no longer than a few months.

It is important to consider the space behind people, so there is enough room for people to walk by (or in between), or for instance for someone to use a sit-stand desk arrangement (which will see them stand back a bit further than where they’d be when they sit).

Some people may need to hide in a corner or have their own little space (with or without a door). That is often easily accomplished, and it is definitely part of the original open plan office concept.

Most economical purchases: Printers

When setting up an (home) office or maintaining an existing one, there are always bits that can cost a little more. A printer is a key example.

You can get an inkjet for almost nothing, but the replacement ink cartridges cost more than their weight in gold, so the effective cost-per-page becomes rather high. Years ago already I concluded that as long as I didn’t need colour printing on a regular basis, a B&W laser was much more cost effective – and it has been. You can always walk into a local copyshop with a USB stick to get a few colour pages done, which of course works out more expensive for those few pages, but cheaper overall.

When replacing that first laser printer, I actually went to a B&W laser multi-function with a document feeder. Copying becomes easier, and scanning possible. With the document feeder the amount of manual effort required goes down, so that saves time = money. In addition it allowed me to send faxes. I despise faxes but sometimes they’re essential for some interactions. My company has a virtual fax number that just makes a PDF show up in email, but sending is separate matter.

Having the printer on the network (wired or wireless) tends to be a great advantage also – it saves hassle and time when using it as it doesn’t rely on any particular machine being on.

Now with that device aging too, and the increased need for colour, I once again did the maths. You can now get a reasonable colour laser (not multifunction) for less than $100 (for instance the Konika Minolta 1600W) and the running cost (toner and even electricity) is such that it works out well below that of an inkjet. Now there’s an important lesson: do not buy an inkjet any more, people!

But given the particular needs of my home office, I’m going for a colour laser multi-function this time. In additional to the document feeding, it now scans to PDF and emails it to you. That’s nice. That might actually negate the need for connecting up the fax to a phoneline (which is a VoIP port anyway) as generally I can then scan a document and email it. Easy and again time-saving. And duplexing (double-sided printing) is now affordable, which of course saves paper with multi-page documents. For most multi-function lasers, the cost-per-page for colour is still a bit higher than that of the cheapest print-only colour lasers, but since you don’t use colour all the time, it works out ok. It’s cheaper than a colour copy at the local shop, and saves time/hassle. I think it’s a winner.

Note that if you have a home office, you may find that your kids also can also make great use of the colour printing capabilities for school work. I dread to think what that would cost if you were to use ink. Time moves on!

It’s been an interesting evolution, and all the above has happened within say the last 10 years. So that means that I only buy a new printer about every 3-5 years, which is actually very moderate for technology. I probably keep using a model well until it’s become annoying in terms of extra effort, in relation to the cost of the then-available new technology – difficult to easily identify such work-changes over time, but it’s still relevant. So there’s a lesson for me too.

As for prediction of future needs/development: I think the next step after this will be A3. of course, not needed by all. Perhaps the tech has reached its natural feature peak and will focus back on other aspects such as speed or quality. We’ll see.

Dilbert Wants to Work from Home

I’ve worked from home for over a decade now (on-and-off) and overall it’s served me – and the companies I’ve worked for – very well. Now of course I run my own company and have a home office.

It’s not for everybody, and it’s not suitable for every type of job or necessarily all the time. I do think it’d be good for more companies to consider options like part-time telecommuting as a first step. Doing this opens up their “skill pool” to include stay-at-home parents, which is a huge and awesomely skilled and motivated group of people.