Afterthoughts: Learning to Share Spaces (and Snacks) in an Open Office
We all need a little space. But sharing it isn’t so bad.
When I first started working at HONOLULU Magazine, our company was spread out across five offices on two floors. For three years, I had to walk down the hall to check in with our art department, go upstairs to get my mail and knock to get into the fashion room. The only times I went into the sales office were to use the microwave. It was very cliquish. The editorial team had its own little world and we liked it that way.
Then, in 2016, our company decided to move all of our magazines and departments—more than 60 people—into one open office. Goodbye, privacy. Hello, chaos.
I’ve been in this new setting for just as long as the old now and, looking back, we may have overreacted. Yes, there’s a lot more foot traffic near my desk and it’s so much easier to get distracted by other people’s conversations, but an open workspace is great for teams like ours that rely on communication and collaboration. “In a big picture sense, collaborative spaces, or open plan spaces, are [a] great way to break down the barriers and hierarchies of a traditional work environment,” says Daniel Pham, director of operations for the BoxJelly coworking space on Kamani Street. It’s true: Sometimes the editorial team will be brainstorming headlines for stories when someone from another department walks by and shouts out a suggestion. More people jump in when they see others needing help with things like carrying boxes or stuffing hundreds of envelopes. Everyone from part-timers to publishers joins in when we sing happy birthday. Pham says “regular spontaneous interactions can create long-lasting bonds, help build community and spur innovation and creativity.” I’m writing this five minutes after an impromptu yoga session with four of my co-workers, so yeah, I can confirm this statement.
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illustration: GETTY IMAGES
Collab spaces have been trending for a few years, moving beyond libraries and coffee shops to ultra luxury. In cities like Seattle, some neighborhoods are going vertical with all-in-one condos that offer everything from movie theaters to pet lounges to coworking studios. Locally, Impact Hub is expanding to a second location in Hawai‘i Kai. BoxJelly recently branched out with the new Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Kaka‘ako in collaboration with the Hawai‘i Technology Development Corp. And with all the studies that show how harmful it can be to sit most of the day, these spots offer more flexible arrangements, such as giant lawn pillows at the Waiwai Collective. Treehouse in Kailua has a fitness room. A few people at HONOLULU have standing desks, which wasn’t an option in our old office, and we have access to a pool upstairs. I once had a meeting sitting around the hot tub, soaking my feet while brainstorming web stories.
It’s not all great. I hate doing phone interviews when others can hear me, or when they’re having loud conversations nearby. Our planning boards with a year’s worth of stories are on display for anyone who walks by, including visitors to other magazines. I’m not sure other staffers appreciate it when we hold mini dance parties at 4:30 on Friday afternoons. But at the end of the day, it’s nice to be in the same room as everyone. Especially when that means more snacks to share.