Office: companies and employees, irreconcilable points of view?

November 2023

Combi office, flex office, open space, etc. Kardham challenges conventional wisdom of new workspaces.

What if companies and employees themselves were harboring preconceived notions about the design of their workspaces? The former use rhetoric that promises significant gains, while the latter argue about the losses and damage they will suffer. Open spaces are said to promote communication and collaboration. That so-called creative spaces boost employee innovation, that the flex office has a purely economic vocation, that we perform less well when we work in open, shared workspaces. But what is the reality? There's no denying that both sides tend to exaggerate in their arguments, making it difficult for everyone to see clearly. With this in mind, and to shake up the conventional wisdom on office design, Nicolas Cochard, R&D Director at Kardham, has published a white paper entitled "10 common misconceptions about workspaces".

Getting rid of incantatory promises and other prejudices about the office of tomorrow

This white paper is based on scientific research carried out by psychosociologists and management scientists, as well as on feedback from numerous space transformation projects. At a time when the acceleration of telecommuting, collaborative working and the employee experience are prompting companies to rethink their real estate strategy, Nicolas Cochard analyzes how employees actually behave in the workplace. His book also provides concrete, useful solutions for companies wishing to embark on a workspace transformation project. Finally, the book sheds light on the key notions surrounding these new work modes: sollaboration (to be well alone in order to be well with others next), proxemics, psychological comfort, serendipity, environmental satisfaction, activity-based working, etc.

Enabling companies and employees to understand the big picture

Internal and external planning professionals are regularly bombarded with a body of professional literature that largely perpetuates preconceived ideas. Employees are promised a bright future. And yet, the speeches are sometimes based on preconceived ideas held among professionals, which become almost truths as they are read several times, on social networks for example. What's more, it's easy for fads to spread the word, while at the same time giving the impression that we're moving towards ever-more modernity, which is never clearly defined. For their part, when employees are confronted with a transformation of their workspace, many preconceived ideas circulate, linked to the fears - quite natural - that change implies. Not all reactions are negative, of course, but some are, often fuelled by unfounded beliefs. However, it is necessary to examine these beliefs, as they are likely to be present, and it would be a mistake to ignore them, as they are often linked to people's psychosocial relationship with their space.

Focus on 5 of the 10 preconceived ideas that prevent us from taking a step back from a central issue.

1 – Open-planning encourages communication and collaboration: removing office partitions can create more social links. Yet studies show that employees adopt such a "sanitized" attitude in open spaces that the opposite is true. So how can we design spaces that really encourage interaction?

2 – Workspaces help attract talent: this idea could not be more common at a time when companies are multiplying initiatives to attract candidates, particularly those from Generation Y. And yet, to date, there is no feedback to suggest that office aesthetics and designer furniture are criteria in their choice of future employer. Does the workspace really play a role in attracting and retaining talent?

3 – Tomorrow's office will be exclusively collective: with the spread of telecommuting, the office will be used exclusively for meetings. This idea, too, is not based on any tangible evidence, since it has been shown that employees' needs for greater concentration or, conversely, interaction, vary according to the job and task in hand. In other words, the role of the office is variable and needs to be rethought according to the cultural context, the activity, the management and the organization of the company.

4 – Open spaces are noisy: open spaces are always criticized for being noisy. Especially from employees. A perception that's hard to explain, even though the noise measured in open spaces is quite low in terms of db. Between physical discomfort and cognitive disturbance, what is the real reason why employees reject open spaces?  

5 – The unassigned desk dehumanizes the worker: the flex office challenges the traditional scheme borrowed from a Taylorist vision of work: "one job = one place = one desk". Once this has been explained, it becomes clear that the fear of losing one's physical place is more closely linked to the fear of losing one's social place. For companies, the challenge is to get employees to rethink work collectively, rather than individually.


In this white paper, you'll find other preconceived ideas on the business side and the employee side:

« Open spaces encourage creativity and serendipity", "New spaces break down silos", "The ideal office is a closed individual office", "New spaces only have an economic objective", "We perform less well with new workspaces ».

« Since the health crisis, the question of workspaces has been the subject of much reflection, and the least we can say is that many players in this transformation, foremost among them organizations and their employees, are a little lost. We are proposing this white paper with the aim of raising everyone's awareness of the need to take a step back when dealing with workspace issues. Giving in to fads and spreading preconceived notions about the harmful effects of certain types of layout - sometimes justified, often exaggerated - is not the way to go about it. The ultimate goal is to arrive at the idea that, beyond macro-trends and the cause-and-effect links often too easily put forward, only a contextual approach nourished by serious literature and duly analyzed feedback from experience will enable us to think properly about the future of working environments», Nicolas Cochard, R&D Director at Kardham.

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French version available here.

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Nathalie Neyret

Nathalie Neyret

Head of Marketing & Communication

+33 6 37 68 50 99