As some lounge on the couch, others duck away to grab a croissant from the in-house coffee shop. If workers are seeking solace, it’s no longer drywall that divides them from the clatter and chatter of those nearby. Instead, they strap on a pair of stylish headphones and keep pressing on.
Welcome to the modern workplace: collaborative, casual, open. And as more and more offices adapt to this new type of atmosphere to encourage employee interaction, spawn creativity and boost productivity, the open work space approach is, increasingly, no longer confined to individual companies or organizations.
Take NeueHouse, for example. The upscale Gramercy-based collective defines itself not as a work space, but as an “ecosystem” where work and networking converge. It sports about 1,000 members — primarily from the arts, fashion and design communities — who shell out, according to some published reports, upward of $1,300 per month. (NeueHouse representatives won’t reveal exact prices, but say they offer several tiers of membership ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars a month, depending on individual needs.)
Whatever the cost, it’s not prohibitive for many: The New York location reached membership capacity within the first four months of its 2013 opening. The shared-office operator recently raised $25 million in funding and is primed to expand from its 25th Street location, adding spaces in Los Angeles and London.
NeueHouse is an extreme example of the open work space: the ultimate answer to those that have picked apart the cubicle-farm model, which made its first appearance in 1967 and quickly became a staple in most offices. The vibe evokes that of a modern boutique hotel — complete with a screening room, recording studio and library. A dining area, called the Canteen, features seasonal fare crafted from a Le Bernardin alum and sourced from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Membership includes access to all of these amenities, as well as typical office offerings like IT support.
And then there are the even more atypical aspects of the space, like “The Steps.” As you walk into the warm confines of NeueHouse — complete with cozy lighting and neutral tones — you can’t miss what look like amphitheater seats, but ones you wouldn’t mind sleeping on. While this section is used to its utmost utility, offering seating for events such as, say, a talk from entrepreneur Ian Schrager, it’s also another form of work space, taking on the casual imagery of high school students hanging out on the bleachers after school.
“We’ve gone beyond providing a comfortable desk and a chair,” says Osama Aduib, former general manager of NeueHouse, “and we’ve talked more about ‘how do we really inspire and engage with the people who are here?’ ”
But engagement only goes so far. At some point, everyone needs to detach and focus on his or her work. So NeueHouse struck a deal with Master & Dynamic, a burgeoning startup offering high-end headphones for sound mavens — a needed getaway for many open-office workers.
“Everything you need in your office is right here,” says Master & Dynamic founder Jonathan Levine of the headphones, pointing to a boom-mike attachment that cancels out ambient noise for phone calls, and the high quality of sound piping through the speakers. “When the time comes, you can tune everything out.”
For NeueHouse, it’s the collaboration that drives the success.
“We’ve had scenarios where a startup is grappling with a challenge and has ultimately solved the problem by getting an outsider’s perspective on it,” Aduib says. “That’s what this space brings, the ability to collaborate and gain a new perspective on your work.”
Whether open work spaces continue to grow as rapidly as cubicles caught on 50 years ago remains to be seen. But many who have broken through the barriers of an office or cubicle don’t seem eager to return.
“I’ve learned more about my business by communicating with others here than I could have on my own,” says Soho resident Jamie Singer, 30, one of NeueHouse’s first members and the CEO of a messaging app called Ussie. “I can’t imagine reverting to a traditional office space after this experience.”
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