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How Microsoft used an office move to boost collaboration

Chantrelle Nielsen

October 11, 2016

What type of office design is best for productivity and engagement? Today, this common question tends to have two distinct answers. On the one hand are the tech start-ups, who advocate for open office plans that emphasize chance encounters. Google’s new campus is designed to maximize chance encounters, and Facebook’s new headquarters features the largest open office in the world. Samsung is also exploring the use of more outdoor space to encourage employee conversation. As Scott Birnbaum, vice president of Samsung, told HBR, “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor.” Their new building “is really designed to spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide.”

On the other hand is research about people’s preferences, like this 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that, according to its authors, “categorically contradict[s] the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants.” Another study demonstrated that the noise resulting from open office designs is a huge drain on employee morale.

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Portrait of Chantrelle Nielsen

Chantrelle Nielsen

Chantrelle Nielsen directs research and strategy for Workplace Analytics, a new organizational productivity category at Microsoft. She led product management, marketing, and several other functions at VoloMetrix as they grew and were acquired by Microsoft.