Working Happy: Open Office Space 2.0, Latin America Style
Argentine companies are adding to the international trend to open up workspaces and make them transparent and fun.
BUENOS AIRES —In trend-conscious Argentina, companies are embracing new ways to keep employees happy, and among them is the "open-plan" office.
This kind of office design has come to mean an absence of closed spaces, boxes and partitions. Instead, airy office schemes are designed to foment easy, friendly and even playful interaction. It's a concept that continues to fine-tune itself around problems related to noise and lack of privacy.
Víctor Feingold, CEO of Contract Workplaces, a regional company that designs office spaces, says it's about generating happiness in the workplace. "If we create conditions wherein every person is as happy as they can be, they will be more creative and the firm will do better," he says. "You don't want to tie people to a desk, but humanize the office to make it more productive."
Feingold says "new-economy" companies that have no traditions to follow can hold onto their original "garage" mentality. "They are places where people actually want to go and work and are great at attracting talent through motivation," he says. "It's unstoppable and extending to other sectors."
Resale website Mercado Libre has worked with Contract Workplaces in designing its offices in several Latin American countries, including Brazil and Colombia. Because it started out with an open-office concept and equal work spaces for all its workers, it now faces new challenges and needs arising from its inexorable growth.
Lucila Siboldi Bengolea, Mercado Libre architect and office management supervisor, says its spaces are evolving. "The game room is taken into account at the very start of every project, but now we add the ping-pong table, sofas, a space for breastfeeding and hair and manicure parlors," Bengolea says. "We are also giving a lot of space to art that includes anything from graffiti to interventions by local artists."
Guillermo Willi, "chief people officer" at IT company Globant, says his firm was born with the same notion, "an open, transparent office where communication flows and there are no physical barriers to exchange." He believes this helps generate ideas because links and comments circulate freely and feed creativity, although there are some closed-door spaces for when privacy is necessary.
Office design evolves further after a space is used and employees offer feedback. For example, the conference room, which has hammocks, was extended with spaces associated with outdoors, leisure and sustainability (such as a barbecue, a terrace and a little garden). There are also rooms with musical instruments for use by so-called "Globers," or Globant employees participating in competitions the company organizes.
Its offices in Mar de Plata were built in what used to be the city's Museo del Mar (Sea Museum), and it has kept a good part of its shell collection, a fish tank and visiting spaces for school parties and local residents. "We offered our employees a different space, while keeping it accessible to the local community and preserving what was already there," Willi says.
Tech firms aren't alone. Kimberly-Clark, which makes hygiene products, also sought a space to fit its new open-space policy. The firm redesigned its offices in Puerto Madero, the upscale Buenos Aires waterfront, to create a brighter, open and flexible environment. It has projection spaces for presentations, work tables, lockers and sofas with views onto the dock. There are also two innovative rooms: the Tribune with cushions and floor seating, and the Ideas Garden, a circular space with "stimulants "on the walls for creative meetings or for people just to sit and think.
The company's personnel chief Cinthia D'Agatha says the change meant replacing traditional cubicles with tables shared by teams. "We wanted to work in a more integrated manner without closed offices," she says. "The decisions flow that way and things happen faster."
While meeting rooms still exist for teleconferences or moments of private discussion and concentration, she says the "change of format was an inspiration to other countries" like Chile, where Kimberly-Clark created "highly innovative offices" using the Argentinian model. "We were pioneers," D'Agatha says with pride.