The concept of offices without walls, made under the architectural concept of eliminating the divisions between modules, generating open work spaces, conducive to the motivation of their workers, was imposed in recent years as the vanguard in design of work centers. After the examples of leading technology companies, such as Google, Facebook or Yahoo, in which creativity and innovation were expressed through open spaces in which people work without divisions, companies from various sectors began to adopt this trend, knocking down, literally, the walls that separated the CEOs from the rest of the employees.
More than transparent, the main objective was always to seek the increase of productivity. Taking one of the 14 fundamental principles of The Toyota Way, the management philosophy of Toyota Motor Corp. referred to the importance of using visual control so that problems are not hidden, interior designers took advantage of the wave of construction of new buildings of offices to define workspaces in which no employee is hidden behind a division. In the style of Mark Zuckerberg, founding president of Facebook, spaces were designed in which it was even difficult to identify hierarchies from the offices, because they were all similar, regardless of the ranges.
However, after almost a decade developing this concept within organizations, a Harvard Business School professor points out that the walls, far from what one might believe, contributed to the increase in creativity.
MORE WALLS, LESS TRANSPARENCY
According to research by Harvard Business School professor Ethan S. Bernstein, there is a certain virtue in organizations that allow employees to do a little work without being observed. In a series of studies, Professor Bernstein showed that decreased observation in employees can raise productivity. The most curious result of this report is the phenomenon he discovered, which he called the “paradox of transparency”, which indicated that observing less the work of employees raised the perception of transparency within the organization, under the premise of that a company with excessive control over workers generates rejection and distrust among employees.
Bernstein discovered the paradox while studying a technology products factory in China, where tens of thousands of workers gathered around a system of identical modules without divisions, whose objective was to replicate innovations among employees, increasing productivity and reducing production costs. . But Bernstein found that workers reduced their performance level every time they felt they were observed, due to a collective fear of attention. The initial objective of the contagion of good practices was overshadowed by a generalized feeling of working in a small concentration camp in which everyone lived in fear of being caught. Innovation did not occur, less cost reduction.
“We assume that when we see something we understand it better,” says Bernstein. “In this particular environment, and perhaps in many others, what the managers were seeing was not real, it was a spectacle that is exercised over an audience.” When the audience was gone, the real show began, and this was the increase of productivity “, concludes the researcher. For the Harvard professor, the answer lies in the leader’s attitude towards the team of collaborators, regardless of whether there are divisions or not. Finally, just as there are imaginary borders between countries, it is possible to build invisible walls within organizations based on an inordinate control of what each employee does with their time in the office.
The answer, for this researcher, is to define clear goals beyond how the offices are distributed, and to fulfill as leader with those tasks and responsibilities that are theirs as heads of the company. Because as it is possible to easily observe each of the workers, it is possible that workers observe more carefully if their boss fully complies not only with their function, but if they respect in all respects the culture of the company.