Creativity comes from an open mind, not an open space

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

The newly elected members of Congress don’t have to worry about working in an open space office environment. Instead, they cross their fingers and hope they get an office with a view. Those who are not running for reelection or lame ducks sit in cubes until the new sesion starts.

Likewise, most employed physicians, including academic physicians, savor their private offices and want to be able to hang all those diplomas, awards and patent plaques on their vanity walls. Of course, the chairperson usually gets the best spot with more space to display all those memorabilia from foreign speaking engagements while you are at home racking up RVUs. They also need a conference table so they can periodically review your productivity numbers in a friendly place and need extra seating for someone from administration to document the meeting for your file when it comes time for an “employment action”. Just in case you were wondering, here’s what to do when your white coat gets the pink slip. There is about a 33% chance you will move on or be made redundant, particularly if you are an assistant professor.

Things are changing, however, and open office design is coming to a startup, coworking or office building near you. That’s not good news for many reasons including the fact that it interferes with productivity of your best, let alone the worst , employees. Sick care productivity is already down.

Another trend is domain specific open working spaces for digital health entrepreneurs,lawyers, women or some other demographic or industry sector.

Most people want to work in solitude during most of the day and writers and philosophers have praised it for millennia. The problem is when solitude turns into loneliness, something that has become a public health crisis and infects entrepreneurs as well.

The other problem is the mistaken notion fostered in domain specific integrators that a given industry can be fixed from inside and that all it takes is better cooperation and integration of the parts. Sick care cannot be fixed from inside and neither can most industries. Changing the rules and models requires open, outside in, inside out collaboration with people from strange and foreign places.

The answer to all this seems to be activity based workplace design. ABW presents a mix of open, semi-private and private spaces in one commercial office to meet employees where they are in the moment, not forcing workers to accomplish their tasks in a specific non-ideal space. In this contemporary evolution of ABW, employees still keep their desks. Think a quiet floor with assigned workstations, another floor of private offices and suites with conference rooms, and a floor with a cafe and social hubs.

Like doctors, Congress people get paid for effort, not results, regardless of where they do their work. Both, arguably, are equally inefficient, non-productive and wasteful. If you want to accomplish something and be a member of the GSD club, it’s better to have an open mind and mindset instead of an open space to work.