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How Ikea’s innovation lab redesigned its own open plan office

Space10 looked at the research on open plan offices and decided to give its employees more privacy and more flexibility.

Many employees hate open offices. Yet scores of them continue to be built around the world; after all, open plan designs likely save companies millions per year. Not content with its own open plan office, Ikea’s innovation lab, Space10, recently decided to redesign its Copenhagen headquarters to give its employees more privacy.

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The new space, which was designed by the local architecture studio Spacon & X, addresses many of the reasons people hate open plan offices, according to recent research on the topic. Chief among these? A lack of visual and acoustic privacy, which can make employees feel distracted and exposed, ultimately reducing productivity. It’s a common refrain in office culture today. Some employees describe “hacking” their desks to force their coworkers to give them the personal space they want. In other cases, offices are installing phone booths to give employees some quiet space.

[Photo: Hampus Berndtson/courtesy Space10]

The Space10 redesign transformed the innovation lab’s three-story office, which serves as home base to its 27 employees as well as a rotating cast of designers and creatives that the lab collaborates with regularly. Spacon & X originally designed the office three years ago, and this refresh was meant to provide more privacy and give employees more flexibility in their individual work spaces.

The architects designed a series of modular pods that are a mix between an open desk cluster and a cubicle: each pod fits a small group of desks belonging to one team. The walls around the cube have inset acoustic panels made of recycled plastic to reduce noise and create more visual privacy as well. Teams that need more quiet time can add more of these panels to make the cube more isolated and peaceful, or the panels can be removed to open the space up to the rest of the office.

[Photo: Nana Hagel/courtesy Space10]
“The workstations are crucial for divvying up space for various activities, and people can customize their own work spaces as they see fit,” Kevin Curran, the program lead at Space10 who led the redesign, tells Fast Company via email. “By providing privacy and sound absorption, the solution means that those inside don’t get distracted–or distract others ‘outside.'”

[Photo: Nikolaj Thaning Rentzmann/courtesy Space10]

Employees are also encouraged to move around, choosing their setting to suit what they’re working on, whether that’s a deep concentration cocoon, an armchair, or a standing desk–and the office provides all of these different kinds of environments to support that.

“The design accommodates both extroverts and introverts; catering to people who thrive from chatting to passing colleagues as well as those who need peace and quiet; providing space for creatives who prefer a neat desk as well as people who need to spread out sketches all around them to do their best work–so redesigning our space to accommodate subjective preferences was a necessity, not a luxury,” writes Polina Bachlakova, an editor at Space10.

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Space10’s new office also includes a fab lab and technology studio, a test kitchen, event space, and a gallery, some of which is open to the public. In the last year, the lab has launched self-driving car concepts, a modular house prototype, research on coliving and AI, and even meatballs made of bugs. With a host of new projects coming, including a cookbook, it’s the perfect time for the lab to rethink how its space affects its creative output.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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