Forget Hot Desking and Open Plans – Here’s a Law Firm Going Back to Private Spaces

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The strong trend towards open plan office space is something we’ve written about previously, but the honest approach, according to one major Australian law firm, is because open plan = less expense.

And they don’t want lawyers to be battery hens.

The firm recently designed new offices for its Brisbane and Cairns offices, but it decided that open plans and hot desking was not for them.

Instead, it wanted to give lawyers their own space and avoid the “battery hen” approach, as the firm described it to the AFR.

A strong move towards the hot desks and workstations has characterized many Big Law firms everywhere, particularly for graduate lawyers. The same applies to many of the professional service and large accounting practices that have bought in heavily to the workstation ethos of office design.

But the sentiment may be turning to some extent as professionals require more of their own space and privacy to work.

Holding Redlich have opted for the private spaces and natural light to provide greater “humanity” in their workplace.

But the more significant factor is that open plan offices may have generated less rather than more collaboration among colleagues.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review observed that the revolution in open plan offices may have gone too far.

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As article author Ethan Bernstein noted –

” I do think the open office space “revolution” has gone too far. If you’re sitting in a sea of people, for instance, you might not only work hard to avoid distraction (by, for example, putting on big headphones) but—because you have an audience at all times—also feel pressure to look really busy. Indeed, all of the cues in open offices that we give off to get focused work done also make us less, not more, likely to interact with others. “

Holding Redlich believe that instead of encouraging collaboration, the “battery hen” approach does exactly the opposite.

And they also believe the increasing need for a focus by firms on health and welfare has also seen an increased requirement for individual rather than open plan office space, which can lead to increased stress levels.

Fortinberry Murray principal Bob Murray, who specialises in human science, was reported in Lawyers Weekly saying that open-plan layouts are not a good idea, especially in law firms.

Although the concept of the open plan office may sound exciting, lawyers appear to reject the concept once they ‘settle in’.

“It’s sort of like the placebo effect; every time you put in something new people get excited. So a new workplace comes in and everyone thinks this is the start of something great, and it isn’t,” Mr Murray said.

“They find they can overhear people’s conversations, particularly one-sided conversations, which to the human mind is incredibly stressing.”

Further to this, he said, lawyers often feel that they have no privacy and that they can’t concentrate on their work because they’re always being disrupted.

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>> See what billionaire property investor Sir Robert Jones says about open plan offices – Click Here

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1 thought on “Forget Hot Desking and Open Plans – Here’s a Law Firm Going Back to Private Spaces”

  1. I am at the tail end of a legal career. The concept of open plan offices is not new. I can recall it becoming in vogue for a while back in the 1980’s, but it didn’t catch on to the extent we have seen it evolve in recent years. The important aspect in consulting colleagues is to be able to engage with “the right ones” and not feel compelled to engage with those sharing the assigned open plan location. The ability to close the door and think and exchange views, or to simply focus on complex document drafting without distraction is surely important for the assurance of quality outcomes in law. Open plan has never appealed to me, and was a stumbling block when I was considering a “managed retirement” as special counsel or consultant as I neared the end of my practising career. There are some “new” ideas which have failed in the past, and will fail again because they are not a comfortable fit for the aspirations of our cross-generational profession.

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