Cautionary Tales Office Hell: the Demise of the Playful Workspace

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In the early ’90s, cutting-edge advertising agency Chiat/Day announced a radical plan, aimed at giving the company a jolt of creative renewal. They would sweep away corner offices and cubicles and replace them with zany open spaces, as well as innovative portable computers and phones. A brand new era of “hot-desking” had arrived.

Problems quickly began. Disgruntled employees found themselves hauling temperamental, clunky laptops and armfuls of paperwork all over the office; some even had to use the trunks of their cars as filing cabinets. Soon, the unhappy nomads had had enough.

Bad execution was to blame for the failure of this “playful” workspace. But Chiat/Day had made another mistake here, too – one that was more serious, more fundamental and altogether more common.

The Host

Tim Harford

Tim Harford’s long-running column in the Financial Times, “The Undercover Economist,” reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences. His first book, The Undercover Economist, was published in 30 languages and sold…