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How to design workspaces that spur collaboration

News media can thank Silicon Valley for the collaboration mindset that imbues newsroom redesigns. Modern workplaces celebrate problem-solving teamwork, from the adoption of open floor plans to the use of open-source software.

But when it comes to inspiring more collaboration, architects remind us there can be too much of a good thing.

One of the challenges for companies as they seek to encourage collaboration is how to balance “me” vs. “we” space in the workplace, said Tom Price, principal architect at Strada Architecture in Pittsburgh. His​ ​firm has​ ​created​ ​innovation​ ​spaces​ ​for​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​companies, including​ ​Google’s​ ​Pittsburgh​ ​office. Although increasing collaboration has become a ubiquitous goal among forward-thinking companies, he said companies have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it.

Although increasing collaboration has become a ubiquitous goal among forward-thinking companies …  companies have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it.

If a renovated workspace is dominated by too much common space, employees often feel like there’s too much “us time”, ​when​ “​people​ ​get together​ ​either​ ​physically​ ​or​ ​virtually​ ​to​ ​brainstorm,​ ​but​ ​never seem​ ​to​ ​arrive​ ​at​ ​anything​ ​original​ ​or​ ​refreshing,” Price said.​ ​Oppressive​ ​“us time” sessions,​ ​he​ ​said,​ ​leave​ ​people​ ​“disinterested,​ ​less​ ​connected, and​ ​wondering​ ​if​ ​they​ ​actually​ ​contributed​ ​anything​ ​of​ ​value​ ​to the​ ​event.”

While different organizations use a variety of design solutions to encourage collaboration, the emphasis on increased collaboration reflects a new way of working for all — the shift from a linear mode of production for legacy platforms to a more dynamic, digital one. As Price acknowledged, this doesn’t exclude solo work; it embraces new ways of interacting in the workspace.

Quartz’s newsroom is streamlined and open. At the periphery are alternative, creative spaces where small groups can meet or individuals can shift for a change of scenery. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Three types of spaces that balance ‘me’ and ‘we’ time

Companies should create workspaces​ ​that support​ ​a​ diverse range of ​working styles​ ​throughout the day, Price said. While​ he ​emphasized ​there​ is ​no​ ​one-size-fits-all​ ​floor​plan, he suggested​ ​three​ ​types of areas within workspaces​ ​that​ naturally increase collaboration,​ ​balance​ ​“we”​ ​vs.​ “​me”​ ​time,​ ​and​ ​support innovation:

Collision — These are strategically located communal spaces where people can get food and drinks and socialize when they run into one another. “These types of spaces help people navigate their day by allowing them to relax, recharge, and connect when convenient to their schedule,” Price said. “These creative gathering places should also create an experience that is distinct from the rest of the workplace.”

At the Center for Investigative Reporting, a casual, open area with a high table enables quick conferences on work in progress. (Photo by Rachel de Leon)

Mixed​-use —​ Mixed-use,​ ​mixed-scale,​ ​and mixed-personality​ ​rooms​ ​and ​furniture​ ​clusters allow users to approach their work creatively. ​Spaces​ ​with their own personality, such​ ​as workshop-like​ “maker” spaces or home-style living ​rooms,​ ​“​inspire​ ​nontraditional​ ​modes​ ​of meeting,​ ​sharing,​ ​breaking​ ​and​ ​testing,” Price said. “​​​These​ ​flexible spaces​ ​also​ ​empower​ ​users​ ​to​ ​modify​ ​the​ ​space​ ​to meet​ ​their​ ​immediate​ ​needs.”

In addition to providing alternative spaces for solo and collaborative work at Quartz, these breakaway spaces set off from the open newsroom honor staff passions. The Library, shown here, celebrates their love of books and print. This analog room also exemplifies Quartz’s “lo-fi” approach to design, with a simple, neutral palette and natural materials. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Huddle —​ Although collision spaces are typically the largest drivers of collaboration culture, “they rarely provide the distraction-free focus space critical for thinking through problems and innovating,” Price said. Small huddle spaces with a mix of screens, whiteboards and flexible seating options not only support small-group brainstorming sessions, but also easily adapt to solo “me time” types of work.

Compact meeting rooms, such as this “huddle” space at The Washington Post, provide a place for brainstorming, small group meetings or solo work in an environment that is less formal than a conference room. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Make design decisions that reflect your priorities and values

Creating​ ​a more​ ​collaborative​ ​newsroom ​is less​ ​about​ ​tearing​ ​down​ ​walls​ ​and​ ​more​ ​about​ ​tearing​ ​down silos,​ ​said​ ​Tracy​ ​Grant​ ​of​ ​The​ ​Washington​ ​Post. In considering how to design the Post’s new home in 2015,​ ​leaders decided the new building had to make it easier to collaborate.

The​ ​practices of a modern, digital newsroom​ ​“require​ ​face-to-face​ ​conversation,”​ Grant said.​ ​“You​ ​have​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​easy​ ​for​ ​that​ ​to​ ​happen.” ​If employees have to walk up a floor to talk to someone, they’re ​less likely​ ​to​ ​collaborate — “unless you’re a Fitbit wearer.”

She ​worked​ ​to​ ​ensure​ coworkers on the same team would be ​in​ ​“chair-rolling”​ ​distance,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​the​ ​most, around the corner ​from​ one an​other.

Grant ​said​ ​she​ ​pondered ​ideas​ ​for​ ​new​ ​floor​ ​plans​ ​for​ ​more​ ​than a​ ​year.​ ​“At​ ​first​ ​I​ ​thought,​ ​‘I’m​ ​just​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​wild​ ​and​ ​crazy and​ ​mix​ ​everything​ ​up,’​ ​but​ ​then​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​having​ ​national security​ ​pods​ ​sit​ ​next​ ​to​ ​foreign​ ​relations​ ​staff​ ​made​ ​sense.”

“In​ ​some​ ​ways,​ ​the​ ​configuration​ ​isn’t​ ​hugely​ ​different,”​ ​Grant said,​ ​but​ ​now​ ​the Post​ ​has ​teams ​they​ ​didn’t​ ​have.​ ​​​“The social​ ​media​ ​team​ ​has​ ​proximity​ ​to​ ​the ​hub,” the central editing area,​ “​so​ ​if​ ​there’s breaking​ ​news,​ ​there’s​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​easy​ ​communication​ ​and collaboration​ ​around​ ​that.”

At​ ​first​ ​I​ ​thought,​ ​‘I’m​ ​just​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​wild​ ​and​ ​crazy and​ ​mix​ ​everything​ ​up,’​ ​but​ ​then​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​having​ ​national security​ ​pods​ ​sit​ ​next​ ​to​ ​foreign​ ​relations​ ​staff​ ​made​ ​sense.

Sumita​ ​Arora,​ ​a​ ​principal​ ​at​ ​the​ ​architectural​ ​firm​ ​Gensler,​ ​said creating​ ​strategic​ ​“adjacencies”​ ​in​ ​the​ workplace ​is​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​express an​ ​organization’s​ ​priorities.​ ​Arora​ ​leads​ ​Gensler’s​ ​“​Media Practice​ ​Area​,”​ ​which​ ​specializes​ ​in​ ​architecture,​ ​workplace strategy​ ​and​ ​design​ ​for​ ​media​ ​companies​ ​around​ ​the​ ​world. Its past clients include​ ​the​ ​Post​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Dallas​ ​Morning​ ​News.

The Post, Grant said, has had “enormous​ ​success​ ​with​ ​embedding​ ​engineers​ ​in sections,​ ​and​ ​making​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​graphic,​ ​photo,​ ​video​ ​and​ ​product teams​ ​are​ ​sitting​ ​closely​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​so​ ​conversations​ ​can happen​ ​organically.​”

​Brian​ ​Boyer of Spirited Media said “the​ ​principle​ ​that​ ​leads​ ​all​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​about​ ​increasing communication​ ​–​ ​about​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​team​ ​that​ ​talks​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other.” Boyer is vice president of product and people at the company, which runs Billy Penn in Philadelphia, The Incline in Pittsburgh and Denverite.​ ​

When​ ​Boyer​ headed​ ​the​ ​Visuals​ ​team​ ​at​ ​NPR,​ ​he​ ​led​ ​a​ ​grassroots​ ​efforts​ ​to transform​ ​his​ ​team’s​ ​workspace​ ​— and​ ​its​ ​culture.

Change​ ​number​ ​one​ ​was​ ​initiation​ ​of​ ​a​ ​daily​ ​“​scrum​,”​ ​​ ​which​ ​is​ ​part​ ​of the​ ​“agile” software development ethos​ ​he practiced​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Chicago​ ​Tribune​.​ Boyer​ ​required​ ​his​ ​team​ ​to​ ​be on​ ​site​ ​by​ ​10​ ​a.m.​ ​every​ ​day​ ​for​ ​the​ ​scrum​ ​—​ ​essentially​ ​a fast-paced​ ​briefing​ ​where​ ​the​ ​team​ ​stands​ ​in​ ​a​ ​circle​ ​for​ ​the duration​ ​of​ ​the​ ​meeting.

What’s key is that the​ ​scrum​ ​was​ ​held​ ​not​ ​in​ ​a​ conference​ ​room,​ ​but in​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​NPR’s​ newsroom. That showed the rest of the staff that Boyer’s team was committed to open communication.

When​ ​you​ ​make​ ​things​ ​visible,​ ​Boyer​ ​said, ​you​ ​prioritize​ them.​ ​“There​ ​shouldn’t​ ​be​ ​any​ ​secret​ ​projects,”​ he said.​ ​“Everyone should​ ​know​ ​what​ ​everyone​ ​is​ ​doing​.​”​

But​ ​that​ ​doesn’t mean​ ​you​ ​need​ ​an​ ​expensive​ ​remodeling​ ​effort. “Ours​ ​is​ ​essentially​ ​a​ ​craft​ ​project,”​ he ​said​ ​of​ ​his​ ​teams’ spaces at NPR and Spirited Media.

They​ ​have​ used ​whiteboards,​ ​markers​ ​and​ ​sticky notes,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​cork​ ​board​ ​with​ ​​yarn​ ​and​ ​index​ ​cards,​ ​to​ ​map​ ​out​ ​projects​​ ​for​ ​everyone​ ​to​ ​see.​ ​He​ ​refers​ ​to​ ​these​ ​visible​ ​indexes in​ ​team​ ​areas​ ​as​ ​“information​ ​radiators”​ ​that​ ​are​ ​like​​ ​television screens​ ​flashing​ ​at​​ ​a​ ​convenience​ ​store checkout: ​“You don’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​look,​ ​but​ ​you​ ​happen​ ​to​ ​look.”​ ​

“If​ ​you​ ​have​ ​it​ ​in​ ​the​ ​space,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​physical.​ ​Instead​ ​of​ ​having​ ​a plan​ ​in​ ​a​ ​manager’s​ ​head,​ ​the​ ​plan​ ​is​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wall,”​ ​Boyer​ ​said. This creates accountability, but it also fosters ​empathy​ ​and an understanding​ of everyone’s role on the team.

What does your seating layout say about your leadership structure?

Open workspaces with creative furnishings may seem like little more than an aesthetic nod to trendy tech culture. But they’re physical​ ​manifestations​ ​of​ ​another​ ​trend: the flat organizational charts that characterize many of the world’s most innovative companies.

Research by MIT Sloan Management Review suggests​ flatter hierarchies are essential for obtaining​ ​true​ ​digital​ ​expertise and instilling innovation and risk-taking among employees.​

According to this research, companies that are early in the process of transitioning to digital workflows are​ ​characterized​ ​by​ ​“a​ ​low​ ​appetite​ ​for​ ​risk,​ ​a​ ​hierarchical leadership​ ​structure,​ ​and​ ​work​ ​performed​ ​in​ ​silos.” Organizations​ ​that​ ​have embraced​ ​a​ ​digital​ ​future, on the other hand,​ ​have​ ​flatter​ ​leadership structures,​ ​value​ ​experimentation,​ ​and​ ​foster collaboration.​ ​This​ ​model​ ​of​ ​distributed​ ​leadership​ ​is​ ​prevalent in​ ​the​ ​technology​ ​industry​,​ the​ ​​primary​ ​influencer​ of the news business.

Even furniture can signal a more egalitarian culture. In the Post’s newsroom, each desk has a file​ ​cabinet​ ​with​ ​a​ cushion​ ​on​ ​top,​ ​which can​ ​be​ ​pulled​ ​out​ to ​sit​ ​on​ ​like​ ​an​ ​ottoman.​ ​“Now,​ ​instead​ ​of hovering​ ​over​ ​your​ ​shoulder,​ ​an​ ​editor​ ​is​ ​sitting shoulder-to-shoulder​ ​with​ ​you,”​ ​Grant​ ​said.​ ​“It’s​ ​symbolic​ ​​and practical.”

Similarly,​ ​Boyer​ ​cautioned,​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​designing​ ​for collaboration,​ ​never​ ​use​ ​L-shaped​ ​desks.

“An​ ​L-shaped​ ​desk​ ​means​ ​someone​ ​is​ ​in​ ​the​ ​back​ ​seat,”​ he ​said Boyer.​ ​“If​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​straight​ ​desk,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​peers.”

Open-ended spaces inspire innovation

When the online news outlet Quartz relocated to accommodate its growing team, Senior Vice President of Product and Executive Editor Zach Seward wanted​ ​to​ ​create​ ​more​ ​opportunities​ ​for​ ​staff​ ​to​ ​collaborate​ ​away from​ ​their​ ​desks. Quartz kept its open floor plan where everyone​ ​sits​ ​together​ ​with​ ​the​ ​same-sized​ ​desks​, but it combined that ​with​ ​mixed-use​ ​areas​ where employees​ ​can​ move​ ​from​ ​space​ ​to​ ​space.

“Obviously​ ​we​ ​needed​ ​desks​ ​and​ ​conference​ ​rooms,​ ​but​ ​we wanted​ ​to​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​other​ ​spaces” to​ ​encourage​ ​different​ ​ways​ ​of interacting,​ ​Seward​ ​said.​ ​“We​ ​call​ ​them​ ​Quartzy​ ​spaces.”​ ​

The new​ ​location​ ​has​ ​several​ ​casual, ​creative​​ ​spaces where​ ​people​ ​can work​ ​and​ ​socialize​, ​such​ ​as​ ​the Town​ ​Hall,​ ​the​ ​Library​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Workshop​.​ ​Seward​ ​said​ ​they were meant to spur ​meetings​ ​and​ gatherings. But​ ​he​ ​also​ ​noticed​ ​an​ ​increase​ ​in​ ​informal solo work​ ​away​ ​from​ ​desks, which​ ​meant​ ​people​ were sitting next​ ​to coworkers​ ​they​ ​might​ ​not​ ​have​ ​otherwise​ ​encountered.

One of the structures adjacent to Quartz’s open office area is a café-style nook, designed as a change-of-pace work area. It’s suitable for working alone or in a small group. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

A corner of the “Town Hall” features a stage-like structure with storage below. This corner begs to be climbed — as much a play structure as a platform — and encourages creative ways of working. The rest of the Town Hall is used for whole-staff meetings, to eat lunch, and to host events. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Adam​ ​Alter,​ ​in​ ​​”How​ ​to​ ​Build​ ​a​ ​Collaborative​ ​Office​ ​Space​ ​Like Pixar​ ​and​ ​Google​,”​ writes that ​these​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​purpose-free spaces “encourage workers​ ​to​ ​do​ ​their​ ​thinking​ ​in​ ​the​ ​presence​ ​of​ ​other​ ​people, rather​ ​than​ ​alone.”​

These​ ​are​ ​precisely​ ​the​ ​behavioral​ ​transformations that architects​ aim for​ ​when​ ​they​ ​design​ ​communal​ ​spaces.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​enabling​ ​impromptu interactions​ ​that​ ​can​ ​change​ ​the​ ​dynamic​ between​ ​workers,​ they ​serve​ ​as​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​blank​ ​slate,​ ​a​ subtle invitation​ ​to​ ​create​ ​something​ ​new​ ​and​ ​different.​ ​In​ ​other​ ​words, to​ ​innovate.

Grant​ ​said​ ​she​ ​was​ ​initially​ ​skeptical​ ​that​ ​this​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​informal gathering​ ​space​ would ​promote​ ​behavioral​ ​change. ​But​ ​in​ ​the new Washington Post newsroom, she said she often sees people migrate to a​ ​relaxed​ area ​dubbed​ ​the​ ​”airport​ ​lounge”​ for a change of scenery during the day or to hand off work between shifts.

At The Washington Post, this casual seating area situated outside a conference room near the central editing hub has been dubbed the “airport lounge.” People use it to chat while waiting for a meeting, to continue conversations as they exit story conferences and to hand off work between shifts. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Newsrooms​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​an​ ​expensive​ ​architect​ ​to​ ​transform​ ​a corner​ ​of​ ​the​ ​newsroom​ ​into​ ​an effective communal​ ​space.​ ​Jones​ ​at​ ​The Virginian-Pilot​ ​refreshed​ ​a​ ​drab​ ​lobby​​ into​ ​something special ​with​ ​DIY​ ​flair,​ ​finding​ ​creative​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​save​ ​money.

“This​ ​was​ ​a​ ​very​ ​antiquated,​ ​typical​ ​lobby​ ​with​ ​plaques​ ​and trophies,”​ ​Jones ​said​.​ ​“We​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​make​ ​people​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​there was​ ​an​ ​area​ ​they​ ​could​ ​veg​ ​out,​ ​take​ ​a​ ​call,​ ​or​ ​have​ ​fun.”​ ​So​ ​they took​ ​over​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​lobby,​ ​removed​ ​the​ ​dusty​ ​awards,​ ​added​ ​two 15-foot​-long ​butcher​ ​block​ ​​tables​ ​with​ ​bar​ ​stools,​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​a nearby closet​ ​into​ ​a​ ​coffee​ ​bar.

Before the Virginian-Pilot’s renovation, this was a dark lobby with a trophy case. Now it’s an open-ended space with natural light — a new place to work outside the newsroom. Plans for this space include installing a large-screen television. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

This multi-purpose lounge serves as a breakaway workspace, a place to take a coffee break and a place to socialize. “Everyone​ ​volunteered​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​in​ ​games,” she said. And​ ​while​ ​it​ ​isn’t​ ​quite​ ​Google,​ ​​legendary​ ​for​ ​its​ ​free​ ​food​,​ ​Jones​ ​said,​ ​“We​ ​put​ ​out​ ​candy,​ ​pretzels​ ​and​ ​peanuts every day,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​have​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​pizza​ ​lunches.”

Where’s my office?

More​ ​than​ ​one​ ​editor​ ​interviewed​ ​for​ ​this​ ​study​ ​said​ ​that​ ​at​ ​some point​ ​during​ ​the​ ​renovation​,​ ​an​ ​anxious​ ​employee​ ​sent them​ ​​a column called​ ​“Google​ ​got​ ​it​ ​wrong.​ ​The​ ​open-office​ ​trend​ ​is destroying​ ​the​ ​workplace.”​ ​In​ ​it,​ ​Lindsey​ ​Kaufman​ ​discusses​ ​the trauma​ ​of​ ​moving​ ​from​ ​an​ ​office​ ​at​ ​her​ ​Tribeca​ ​ad​ ​agency​ ​to​ ​a seat​ ​at​ ​an​ ​open​ ​table. She​ ​likened​ ​it​ ​to​ ​having​ ​her​ ​clothes​ ​ripped​ ​off in​ ​public.

A​ ​response​ ​to​ ​that​ ​piece,​ ​“​Google​ ​Didn’t​ ​Get​ ​it​ ​Wrong,” counters​ ​that​ ​Kaufman​ ​missed​ ​the​ ​point​ by ​focusing​ ​on​ ​the ​lack​ ​of​ ​privacy​ ​in​ ​an​ ​open​ workplace​. ​Kay Sargent ​asserts​ ​that when​ ​the​ ​execution​ ​of​ ​an​ ​open​ ​office​ ​plan​ ​aligns​ ​with​ ​a company’s​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​culture,​ ​employees​ ​collaborate​ ​and innovate​ ​more.​ ​As architect Tom Price noted in his caution to balance “me” and “we” spaces, it’s​​​ ​important​ to ​create flexible ​layouts​ ​with ​different​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​spaces.

In​ ​their​ ​research​ ​on​ ​emerging​ ​work styles,​ ​architects​ ​at​ ​Gensler asked​ ​​if ​individual​ ​work​ ​can survive​ ​in​ ​the​ ​collaborative workspace​. That’s certainly an issue in newsrooms. Sometimes a videographer needs a quiet place to work through a difficult edit. Some interviews are too sensitive to conduct on the phone in front of coworkers. Other times, an editor wants to be able to turn to someone for help on a headline.

When​ ​the​ ​execution​ ​of​ ​an​ ​open​ ​office​ ​plan​ ​aligns​ ​with​ ​a company’s​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​culture,​ ​employees​ ​collaborate​ ​and innovate​ ​more.

Gensler ​looked​ ​at​ the balance​ between ​focused​ and​ ​collaborative​ ​work​ ​options​ ​among​ ​software​ ​developers​ ​in​ ​a major​ ​technology​ ​company.​ ​An​ ​important​ ​takeaway​ ​is​ ​their recommendation​ ​to​ ​“empower​ ​employees​ ​to​ ​match​ ​process​ ​to place”​ ​by​ ​providing​ ​spaces​ ​and​ ​policies​ ​that​ ​support​ ​both styles.​ “Employees​ ​know​ ​intuitively​ ​when​ ​they​ ​are​ ​open to​ ​interaction​ ​or​ ​distraction​ ​and​ ​when​ ​they’re​ ​not,” they wrote. “Let​ ​them communicate​ ​among​ ​themselves​ ​and​ ​make​ ​their​ ​own​ ​plan.”

Gensler​ ​said​ newsroom managers shouldn’t try to ​transplant​ ​​Silicon Valley​ ​workplace​ ​design​s,​ ​but​ ​rather​ create innovative spaces that are authentic​ ​to​ ​newsrooms.

“The​ ​image​ ​of​ ​the​ ​lively,​ ​sometimes​ ​hectic​ ​newsroom​ ​may sound​ ​off-putting,​ ​but​ ​there’s​ ​actually​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​learned from​ ​this,”​ wrote​ ​Johnathan​ ​Sandler,​ ​global​ ​lead​ ​for​ ​media practice​ ​at​ ​Gensler,​ ​in​ ​“​Five​ ​Newsroom​ ​Design​ ​Concepts​ ​Every Office​ ​Should​ ​Steal​.”​ ​The​ “craziness​ ​of​ ​a​ ​newsroom” reflects​ ​the​ ​energy​ ​of​ ​people​ ​“working​ ​together​ ​to​ ​make split-second​ ​decisions.”

A​ ​well-designed​ ​newsroom​ ​has​ ​a​ ​radial system​ ​that​ ​establishes​ ​an​ ​overall​ ​community, he wrote,​ ​but​ it’s​ ​“organized like​ ​layers​ ​in​ ​an​ ​onion,”​ ​where​ ​the​ ​outer​ ​rings​ are ​calmer and​ ​quieter.

“We​ ​went​ ​through​ ​a​ ​period​ ​where​ ​newsrooms​ ​were​ ​loud​ ​spaces, then​ ​they​ ​got​ ​quiet​ ​like​ ​insurance​ ​offices,”​ ​said​ ​Greg​ ​Branson, an assistant​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​at​ ​The​ ​Kansas​ ​City​ ​Star.​ ​“Now​ ​you have​ ​people​ ​doing​ ​video​ ​and​ ​standups​ ​in​ ​the​ ​newsroom,” bringing​ ​energy​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​space.

Robyn Tomlin, managing editor at The Dallas Morning News, described how their new open newsroom will reinforce digital workflows. “Before, our offices were separate. I couldn’t see into the newsroom; I’d have to walk down a hallway to engage,” she said. That didn’t facilitate the kind of communication they wanted.

​Michael​ ​Hughes is ​senior​ ​manager​ ​of​ ​media​ ​design​ ​and production​ ​for​ ​The​ ​Bucks​ ​County​ ​Courier​ ​Times,​ ​Burlington County​ ​Times​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Intelligencer​ ​in​ ​Pennsylvania. In 2017, as walls and partitions came down during renovation, the company moved managing editors into the newsroom to sit with their teams. Some managers may want​ ​their​ ​walls​ ​and​ ​doors​ ​back, but he said ​an open space​ ​reinforces​ ​his​ ​accessible​ ​management​ ​style.

“I’m​ ​in​ ​the​ ​open,​ ​working​ ​side​-by​-​side​ ​with​ ​everyone,”​ ​he​ ​said. It ​helps​ ​him​​ ​gauge​ ​morale​ ​and​ ​address​ ​problems when​ ​they’re​ ​still​ ​small.

“I’ve​ ​worked​ ​in​ ​both​ ​scenarios,”​ ​he​ ​said.​ ​“I​ ​welcome​ ​getting interrupted.”

Digital​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​Jacki​ ​Gray​ ​helped​ ​address​ ​the​ ​privacy problem​ ​with​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​space​ ​hack. When managers moved to sit with their teams, she was able to take ​over​ ​one of their old offices. It now serves as a ​private​ work area and a conference​ ​room, outfitted with repurposed furniture and a large ​monitor with​ ​Apple​ ​TV​ ​to make it easy to do presentations from a laptop.

“This​ ​space​ ​is​ ​very​ ​popular,”​ ​she​ ​said. Some people will squat there for hours. “Or​ ​the​ ​video​ ​team​ ​will​ ​want​ ​to​ ​step away​ ​and​ ​look​ ​at​ ​content​ ​together​ ​on​ ​a​ ​monitor.”

When managing editors at The​ ​Bucks​ ​County​ ​Courier​ ​Times moved into the newsroom, one of their offices was converted to a conference room. It has become a popular spot for meetings, collaborative editing and private calls. (Photo courtesy of Jacki Gray and Michael Hughes)

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