Photo: Alex Kotliarsky/Unsplash

When we created Bespin Labs we took a good long look at the tech industry, what worked, and what didn’t. We started with what actually makes Bespin Labs different, our people, and focused on what we as a team needed the most. In order to create amazing products and offer outstanding service to our customers we needed a way to collaborate, as well as innovate, but more importantly, we needed somewhere to think, consider and execute to the best of our abilities.

Open workspace?

At that time the trend for tech startups was to move into an open-plan office. The thoughts behind this transparency would hopefully encourage the team to work more collaboratively in a “home away from home” environment. It was an appealing solution, these places had energy and our team would thrive. We’d all been to places like Google, and we wanted a bit of Silicon Valley. We even talked about installing a games machine, hammocks, a pool table, and Friday evening beer on tap. It was all very exciting and we almost got swept away with the hype and gimmicks. But one thing always concerned us when we visited examples of open-plan working, the offices were mostly always half empty, no-one was actually talking to each other, and there were plenty of headphones in use.

We’re a data and evidence-based business, and as we looked a little closer we found that research suggests that open-plan offices don’t actually work. Even worse was that they have a negative effect on productivity and well-being. According to new Harvard research, open-plan office environments reduce the amount of time people spend talking face-to-face and instead drive them to virtual interactions such as email, and text.

Face-to-face interactions among open-plan office employees dropped by about 70%.

A survey of more than 10,000 workers across 14 countries conducted by Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase shows that 85% of workers are dissatisfied with their environment and can’t concentrate. Almost everyone surveyed said being able to concentrate in the office was important to them, but only 41% could do so, and 31% had to leave the office to get work completed.

There is a lot of research now available on open-plan working, and all of it suggests it’s not good for productively, well-being and employee health.

Office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions

https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/privacy-crisis/

Open-plan offices put women at a disadvantage

https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/open-plan-offices-create-extra-stress-for-women-say-scientists.html

32% drop in “workers’ well-being” and 15% reduction in productivity

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8674789/The-Secret-Life-of-Buildings-Channel-4-preview.html

Many employees are unmotivated, unproductive and overly stressed

https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/privacy-crisis/

Open-plan office noise is distracting

https://www.oxfordeconomics.com/when-the-walls-come-down

Open-plan offices kill diversity and equality

https://medium.com/inc./how-open-plan-offices-kill-diversity-and-equality-cd6f46c18442

Open-plan workers feel they are being micro-managed

http://www.cfodailynews.com/are-open-plan-offices-bad-for-work/

Open-plan offices can expect employees to take 62% more sick leave

http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-open-office-trap

They have little capacity to think and work creatively and constructively

https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/privacy-crisis/

Focusing on complex tasks like analyzing figures or working on code was challenging.

http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/how-the-openplan-office-can-be-bad-for-your-health/story-e6frfm9r-1226663078651

Causes high levels of stress, conflict, high blood pressure, and a high staff turnover.

http://www.cfodailynews.com/are-open-plan-offices-bad-for-work/

Open-plan offices hit bottom line.

https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/hr/2016/open-office-plans-are-a-lot-less-cost-effective-than-you-may-think

The science was overwhelming toward not investing in an open-plan office, or any office for that matter. Most people in open-plan offices switched from face to face conversations to virtual interaction, such as email, and text. If that’s the case why do we need an office? The decision was easy, we’re a 100% cloud business, we should aim to be able to work from anywhere. It shouldn’t matter where people work – as long as they are focused, hardworking and feel appreciated.

100% Cloud – 100% distributed

Before we went fully down the 100% working from home route we needed to reassure ourselves that it was the right thing to do. Surely other companies must have come to the same conclusion. Sure enough, there are companies like AHA who as one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. are a 100% distributed team and Automattic, the company that owns WordPress, closed its office because nobody was turning up.

Best Buy flexible work program increased productivity by 35%.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/onbalance/2006/12/draft_best_buys_flextime_exper.html


77% of remote workers get more done in fewer hours

http://www.cosocloud.com/press-release/connectsolutions-survey-shows-working-remotely-benefits-employers-and-employees

92% of workers say video chat improves teamwork.

http://www.polycom.com/company/news/press-releases/2017/20170321.html

Home working works well for us, and to help with on-boarding we provide guidance and funding to help create the ideal dedicated working environment, including stand-up desks, chairs and other home working essentials.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, we’ve had issues along the way.
When working with a distributed team clear communication becomes extremely important. Here we rely on Cloud-based solutions to help us keep in touch and in sync with each other. Email and instant messaging are our primary methods of communication, but in order to make this work effectively we aim to keep emails to 2 lines and never exceed more than 5. If anything needs more than 5 lines, we get on a video call and thrash it out. This helps avoid the back and forth as well as the ambiguity that comes with long email and instant messaging.

It’s also important to understand that as human beings we are social creatures, so it’s good for distributed teams to have regular face to face meet ups and also work from co-working locations. We believe that blending remote working with co-working is the future of the workplace.