New Zealand Green Party leader James Shaw has established a Parliamentary first in embracing an open plan office with his staff. He suggests other Cabinet Ministers should follow suit.

Being in the office space business I know a bit about this but will probably be accused of talking my own book in slamming them. Instead, I’ll refer readers to the evidence.

Google “Open-plan offices” and you will find dozens and dozens of mainly university analytical research studies on this topic from all over the world, including two to my knowledge from New Zealand. Without exception they all say open plan offices are a lousy idea with any advantages swamped by their disadvantages.

My personal approach has always been to make our offices as luxurious as possible. If this is where one is to spend one’s working hours then let it be in a wonderful environment.

Thus our Wellington offices are characterised by plush individual offices, dozens and dozens of paintings, sofas and coffee tables, ornamental porcelain, sculptures, oriental rugs, individual bars and stocked fridges and so it goes. Also, critically, a great deal of wine consumption. Although these days I only occasionally call in, my personal Wellington office is about 1,000sq. ft and a joy to be in. I imagine Shaw would be outraged. His economising rationale as with so much of Green thinking, is joyless and sterile.

My company owns about 1,000 individual office suites in its buildings and we spread the gospel. Thus we have dozens of artists across the land producing a rich variety of artworks we provide free to our lessees. A small professional office suite of say a reception and three or four individual offices can absorb a couple of dozen paintings and my, how it enhances the working environment.

Every week or so deliveries arrive of four or five new paintings from galleries across the land which we open with great enthusiasm.

All of that said, particularly with government and corporates, open plan remains voguish on cost grounds. It’s fool’s gold and I suspect is directly responsible for the phenomenal growth in our CBDs of cafes, coffee-shops, food bars et al as office-workers seek lunch-time escape from their grim working environments. That certainly doesn’t happen with us, indeed it’s unheard of for any of our staff to go out to lunch. Why would they when whatever they want is available in our large kitchen free?

And the outcome of all of this is best reflected by our principal Bank claiming we’re the most efficient company in the country to their knowledge. In short this approach, reflecting solely intangible considerations, is a terrific commercial proposition.

Folk dancing aside, intangible considerations are totally absent in the Greens diverse policies yet are a critical factor in every aspect of our lives.

Shaw’s scout masterly wish that other Cabinet Ministers follow his example epitomises his naivety. They didn’t work their butts off for years through the ranks and finally make cabinet, only to shun some of the well deserved pleasures which go with that elevation.


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