What about the location of the engineering space? middle of a dull, lifeless, soul sucking office park? or near a walkable community?
Basically, it seems like they don't want people to leave and interact outside.
As soon as the "style" starts to be the goal instead of just being the way things look, it winds up being an end in itself. Engineering is best done in areas where there are the tools to do good engineering with. Ideas may not grow in sterile surroundings, that much is certain. So the impressive buildings will indeed attract a lot of people who are attracted to that stuff, and some of them may be good engineers, and may find what they need to achieve great engineering. But it is the people, not the building, that creates the wonderful things. Forcing them into a new gilded box may or not improve what they do, but it will certainly have them thinking about how wonderful the place is. Not being in each others way is useful, but of course the circuit person does need to talk to the mechanical person or the parts won't fit.
Well...we all know that it required exquisite and expensive monument spaces like this to create companies like Facebook and Google to begin with...right?
Without these crazy expensive exercises in social engineering and interaction...where would all the great innovation come from?
Our company makes a point of putting all engineers in hardwall offices with doors which can be closed. That way you can close the door if you need to concentrate, or if you will be noisy (conference call, extended conversation, etc.) It also helps everyone control the light level and to some extent the temperature as they prefer. But there are soft seating areas scattered liberally throughout the building, and the lunch area is just down the hall, so we get a lot of opportunities for collaboration.
Thankfully, we also avoid beige in the overall color scheme. Walls are white, but with enough exceptions of bright, saturated color to keep it interesting. Hallways are generally short or curved, so you don't get that "drowning in a sea of offices" effect. The carpets, doorways, and furniture add texture. All told, it works fairly well.
I work in a business park in Silicon Valley where we have 2 story buildings with halways of offices ringing the outer part of the building and lab space in the middle - no cubicles. Most engineers share an office with another person and managers have a single office. It's nice being able to close the 8 ft tall door when you need to.
Earlier in my career I worked at a campus where the offices faced out into the lab space, making it easy to go back and forth. One engineer rigged an LED above his office door to indicate if his phone was ringing, so he could see if from the lab.
I've also worked in the classic "cube farm" with corner workstations, which makes it easy to tell if your coworkers are in their offices, but not my favorite work environment.
@CK-Karl, you make a point I hadn't thought about (in our own offices in San Francisco): openness, low walls, etc. make you want to stay longer (or at least not mind staying longer). That's true. Unfortunately, in our space (3.5-foot-high cube "walls"), the din can be very distracting. So we're seeing more and more people, earlier and earlier in the day, slip on their headphones and block it all out.
As Bert mentioned, it really does depend on the individual. Some people work best in open "collaborative" work spaces. Some are more productive in caves. Even the lighting can have an impact. I've known engineers that prefer to work with the lights off and others that feel the need for extra light.
The ideal work environment is probably one with a number of environmental options that the engineer can choose from. When management declares that they have the best solution for everyone, that generally means that they have lost touch.
You addressed a major point: open spaces are critical for quietness and quietness is
critical for some activities that require concentration and that occur 'every now and
then', especially in creative jobs.
I have seen small open spaces where people were working quietly, even when speaking
at the phone, but it is a rare experience and occurs only under some conditions:
- people culture and education (my only positive experience was in the UK, I guess it
may be the same in the USA, not certainly the best practice for other countries like
- the availability of enough closed meeting spaces to avoid that meetings and call
confs are set up in the open space
- the type of jobs
I think that larger open spaces are more critical, since it is more and more unlikely that all the people within are doing the same type of activity at the same time, and so the chances for conflict (collaborative, noisy activities vs. individual quietness-seeking activities) are greater.