Inside New York City's Adventure Playground, Where Kids Make The Rules

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

Bad news, introverts: The open-plan office is not going away anytime soon.

The workplaces of the future – and, in many cases, the present – will have fewer high-walled cubicles and private offices.

The good news? Innovative companies with commensurate budgets are creating offices that bring employees together in colorful communal workstations and collaboration areas, making “The Office” look like a monochrome vestige of a bygone era. And, designers are working with companies to maintain private spaces within open offices where employees can drill down on a report or take an important phone call beyond earshot of colleagues.

It’s part of the “alone but together” philosophy taking hold in office design, which attempts to balance employee collaboration with privacy in an era when personal space is shrinking, said BNIM CEO and Director of Design Steve McDowell, whose firm has worked on offices for the EPA and Qualcomm.

“We’re recognizing the need for the office space to adapt to human needs in different ways than we did in the past,” he said.

Taking cues from the tech industry and startup culture, which helped redefine the open office, designers are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, said Cindy Allen, editor-in-chief of Interior Design magazine.

“They want their space to create a culture that speaks to what they do, how they treat employees and how they do business,” she said.

Amid open floor plans where employees sit at long, shared desks and tables, companies are moving away from sterile conference rooms and embracing retrofitted telephone booths, gondolas, shipping containers and train cabooses as enclaves for privacy.

For Yelp’s San Francisco headquarters, architectural design firm Studio O + A created a reception area behind a window marked “General Store,” with exposed brick walls, wood furnishings and a vintage cash register. In addition to the requisite tech company game room, employees meet in rooms named for the kinds of businesses Yelp rates (Creperie, Ski Resort, Butcher Shop). Privacy-seekers find refuge in non-functioning telephone booths and breakaway areas with plush furniture, tables and whiteboards.

This 1,100-foot continuous desk snakes through the New York offices of creative agency Barbarian Group.

This 1,100-foot continuous desk snakes through the New York offices of creative agency Barbarian Group. (Courtesy The Barbarian Group)

Other companies customize their workspaces with unique furniture. A continuous, 1,100-foot “superdesk” winds through the New York office of creative agency Barbarian Group, where employees are assigned spaces with desktop computers, phones and cabinets. Architect Clive Wilkinson designed the serpentine structure, which rises in sections to create seating spaces and passageways that open into common areas where “Barbarians” can meet.

“Our goal was to create a sense of community that fosters making, creativity and collaboration,” said Sophie Kelly, Barbarian Group’s CEO. “The nontraditional setup facilitates social collaboration, while also giving Barbarians their personal space to work productively.”

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