AV Integrators Defend Open Floor Plans

Red Thread and Tierney Brothers among few in AV industry that eschew cubicles and offices for more collaborative spaces that double as showrooms.

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There’s no doubt it’s a little bit shocking and a bit tough to get used to working in an office with no cubicles, no offices and only the necessary walls.

In AV, Red Thread is among the trailblazers when it comes to open office floor plans—and that innovation comes in part because the Boston-based AV integrator is owned by a furniture company.

Their main office doubles as a showroom that can help visitors understand how the technology can work with the furniture in almost any setting.

John Mitton, VP of Red Thread’s AV group and the company’s chief technology officer, says the recently released results of a survey on open floor plans that cited decreased productivity as a major flaw in the idea came “during the infancy of open floor plans.”

The results of the DEGW survey were based on 44,301 responses from 30 companies between 2007 and 2009. “The driver at that time was real estate compression and shedding costs,” says Mitton, noting the timing coincided with the so-called Great Recession.

“I don’t think people had thought about everything they can do with an open floor plan at that time,” he says. “We’re much further along now. We’ve created a palate of places where people can come in and do their work. We’ve created collaborative spaces around how people sit. It’s really about giving people choices about how they can be productive.”

A 2011 Danish study of 2,403 employees found that workers in open offices take 62 percent more sick days than those in more traditional settings.

In 2013, The University of Sydney found that nearly 50 percent of people working in collaborative spaces aren’t satisfied with their lack of sound privacy. Sixty percent of people in cubicles with low walls reported the same dissatisfaction.

Mitton remembers when Red Thread first started talking about going to an open floor plan in its new headquarters office and bristling at the idea of no longer having an office—or even a door to close. In the year or so since moving to the new office, though, “I’m one of the biggest converts,” says Mitton.

And, in better news for Red Thread, he’s not the only one.

“Employee satisfaction is up and retention is up,” says Mitton. “We find that people are working longer, harder hours than they had been.”

Mitton isn’t necessarily surprised more AV integrators aren’t following Red Thread’s model of having their office spaces double as showrooms. One of the few exceptions is Tierney Brothers, which recently opened an office with an open floor plan in St. Paul, Minn.

“Some integrators may not be aware of these kinds of opportunities,” says Mitton. “We want to leverage the space we have. We feel this works for us.”

Here’s a look at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Tierney Brothers’ new headquarters from November:

“Talking about practicing what we’re preaching, we install multiple hotel offices, small little huddle spaces, places that are easy to collaborate in,” says Trent Fettig, project management and engineering manager at Tierney Brothers.

“Our project managers can grab our engineers and our installers quickly, on the fly, and have impromptu meetings or scheduled meetings. Our entire building now is basically our show floor. So we’re bringing customers into the same spaces and we’re having internal meetings. Since our show floor is technically still called the show floor – again, that’s our entire building.

“So, we’re using all of the spaces ourselves. Using them in a way that we are helping to sell to customers and explaining to them how they can use the spaces. Not only are we explaining how the spaces are used but we’re using them ourselves. We’re not putting in any technology that we’re not using on a day-to-day basis. It helps with collaboration, in general, with internal and external customers. We are using the spaces. We believe in everything that we put into all of these spaces,” he says.

Tierney Brothers employees are now “in clusters and then scattered throughout our collaboration tables, so that people could be looking at large PDFs, schematic drawings of jobs or just getting groups together,” says CEO Robert Gag. “I didn’t know for sure if we had it in us, to see those spaces get used. They’re getting together and they’re meeting at those tables.”

Tierney Brothers’ new headquarters has offices either in the middle of the floor or along the back wall of the building.

“We wanted all the light in the public spaces, the café, and then for the people in the workstations,” says Gag.

“The employees that are doing the work day in and day out, they have the views, they have the light coming in,” says Fettig. “It was a complete 180 from what we’re used to. Our employees, they seem to be enjoying it.”

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