Back to School: The Rise of the Campus Office
As Facebook reveals plans to create the largest open plan office in the world ΓÇô its 3,400 workstation Hacker Campus ΓÇô we examine whether the campus is the office of the future.
School is cool ΓÇô the campus as emerging trend
In the era of geek chic, it should come as no surprise that the campus trend is huge. The cool kids are no longer the stockbrokers ΓÇô theyΓÇÖre the coders, the masters of the algorithm, the CEOs of the tech giants.
Driven by a generation of CEOs like Zuckerberg, who went straight from dorm rooms to running multimillion-pound businesses, the tech and media sector is changing the shape of office space. Their requirement for creative, collaborative space (combined with a tendency to favour the kind of space theyΓÇÖre familiar with) is pushing the campus trend forward.
After all, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are all trend leaders ΓÇô and they all have campus-style offices. In many ways, it seems just a matter of time before the rest of us follow suit.
Inside the campus office
One glimpse at GoogleΓÇÖs Mountain View campus in the US is enough to reveal that it is undeniably cool. Googlers work away in large open plan offices or choose from one of the many different workspaces to suit their mood ΓÇô from small breakout areas with comfy seating, to caf├⌐s and even outdoor space.
When itΓÇÖs time for a break, thereΓÇÖs a choice of twenty (yes, twenty) onsite caf├⌐s, and a range of breakfast foods that would make any student proud. Recreation space includes a climbing wall and volleyball courts. In other words, itΓÇÖs a flexible space where office workers come and go, seemingly as they please, and where theyΓÇÖre encouraged to mingle with co-workers.
Breaking down barriers
But the campus is about more than open plan space and cool facilities ΓÇô itΓÇÖs a way of working. ItΓÇÖs about shared knowledge and opportunities, democratisation of discussion and access to management who become a more integrated part of the team.
Most importantly of all, by breaking down the barriers created by traditional office space, it becomes a space for collaboration. Seamless communication is the aim. As Vodaphone UK CEO Guy Lawrence says; ΓÇ£Companies are more agile when everyone is connected together in open workspaces.ΓÇ¥
At their UK office, Vodaphone operates a no-ownership policy, with no one, not even Lawrence himself, owning a desk or a chair ΓÇô let alone an office. Instead, everyone from the newest trainee to the CEO sits together in the open plan office.
Well, 70% of everyone, as the company doesnΓÇÖt have a desk for each member of the workforce either. On the days when theyΓÇÖre in the office, Vodaphone workers turn up, do their work, and take their stuff away ΓÇô then come back the next day and use a different seat. Desk space is used by whoever needs it, when they need it. As Lawrence says, ΓÇ£it feels more like a university campusΓÇ¥ than a formal corporate office.
WeΓÇÖre all students now – office as college
Not only are office workers being asked to work like students ΓÇô weΓÇÖre being offered more in-office learning opportunities than ever before. Thanks to technology, office workers can problem-solve on the go with help from people around the globe via forums, Skype chats, webinars ΓÇô even social media.
Tech workers have long been adept at this type of learning, hence the blurring of the line between designated training space and regular office space, and the increasing similarity of the tech office to university campus space.
The arrival of the first generation of digital natives in the office is set to push this way of working even further.
Is the campus the future?
With tech companies leading the way, it seems so. The campus is strongly allied to flexible working and innovation, practices which continue to gain in importance due to growing emphasis on the economic importance of startups and small businesses. And, thanks to co-working spaces such as GoogleΓÇÖs Campus London, campus working is an option for these small businesses and startups too.
But there will always be business functions which require more private space. Vodaphone still retains meeting rooms for holding job interviews, HR activities and other confidential meetings. There will always be times when collaboration just isnΓÇÖt on the agenda.
And there are those who say that, despite its increased collaborative opportunities and strengthened communication, those huge open plan offices arenΓÇÖt great for productivity either. (One study estimates that the noise alone can reduce worker productivity by as much as 66%.)
Despite these potential drawbacks, tech giants and other large corporates continue to push ahead with their campus office plans. FacebookΓÇÖs Hacker Campus promises to be the biggest and most ambitious example to date. Many will be watching keenly to see if it shapes up as a success.
Is the campus the future of the office or a passing fad? Have you worked in a campus-style office ΓÇô what were your experiences?
Image by Bearontheroof via Wikimedia Commons.