Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Yes, You Can Keep Your Corner Office

The corner office is dead, The Washington Post declared this Father's Day. What did it in? The redesign of Nixon Peabody's D.C. office, which has gone from marble and wood paneling to open and airy -- and corner office free. If even conservative Big Law firms are dropping corner offices, shouldn't everyone?

No. Open office design comes in and out of trend every few years, always claiming to offer greater democracy, communication, and transparency, only to be designed away in a few years, when people realize they actually like being able to work in private now and then. So don't ditch your corner offices just yet.

Goodbye Prestige Design, Hello Glass Everything?

Nixon Peabody's redesign tosses corner offices designed to convey prestige and achievement and replaces them with an office built "with up-and-coming millennials in mind," according to the Post. All offices will be the same size, with a glass front wall and a single guest chair. That applies to everyone from the paralegal to a managing partner. Corner offices are now shared conference rooms. The idea is to "signal transparency, democracy and connection."

Of course, beyond the platitudes there's also the bottom line. The new office is a third smaller, with reduced overhead to match. To be fair to Nixon Peabody, as well, they didn't go full open concept -- they still left their employees with walls, even if one of them is glass.

Open Concept Is Over Rated

In saying goodbye to the traditional office, many law firms are a few decades behind the times. In fact, though the Post characterizes the move as one from baby boomer prestige designs to millennial openness, the open office concept dates back to the earliest factory floors, where managers would pace the aisles monitoring employee productivity. They came back, as cubicle farms, in the 60's and again in the last few decades, now modeled after start ups with workers on shared tables, sans even the cubicle wall. Some describe the design as a way to encourage democracy and openness, others see the panopticon.

However you spin it, though, people tend to hate open offices. About 70 percent of all offices have an open-layout floor plan, according to The New York Times. The Washington Post itself, in a separate piece, notes declares that "the open-office trend is destroying the workplace," leaving workers complaining about lack of privacy and reduced productivity.

After all, anyone who has worked in a cubicle knows how difficult it can be to complete a deal or polish off a document while your coworkers discuss their afternoon meeting. Take down the cubicle wall, like many new open offices do, and you can't even Google "what does hypothecate mean?" without someone smirking over your shoulder. Handling confidential information only makes openness more difficult.

If good fences make good neighbors, good walls make for good offices. Don't get rid of yours just yet.

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