Office Design – Modern Scriptoria?

Many hundreds of years ago monasteries dotted Europe and the British Isles. Times were bad. In many cases young men joined became monks because there was no other work available.

There were no printing presses. The only way to publish and preserve books was to hand copy from one text to another. Monks whose handwriting was sure and elegant were tasked to do this copy work.

They sat on stools in large rooms called scriptoria (places for writing). Each monk was assigned a piece of text to copy. Thus they labored day in and day out, slowly and doggedly copying the Word for the benefit of generations to come. They maintained strict silence.

There was no need to collaborate. Each monk had an assignment. He either completed it or did not. If he completed his assignment, he got another. If he did not, he was punished. The performance metric was simple: how much scripture did we produce this month?

Scriptoria were among Western Civilizations first offices. They were factory-like operations with simple production goals and little if any competition.

Until recently modern offices followed a similar production model.

I just visited a prospective client who is looking for an office redesign. Currently the business functions along a long corridor, barely wide enough for two people to pass one another without bumping shoulders. Tiny offices line both sides of the corridor. They all have doors. The business is a consulting firm that caters to a special niche industry.

What the owners want to explore is an open space office. Through my input and through reading and visiting other businesses, they have caught on to the fact that open offices encourage communications among employees. Communication engenders ideas and faster solutions.

Yet, just as important, people need to have quiet space where they can write, or program or crunch numbers. So it’s a balancing act.

Landlords are becoming more and more amenable to switching from the enclosed boxy model to the open model. Depending on your local leasing market, you may be able to get some development funds from your new landlord or at the very least, a few months of free rent to help make the transition. Check with a good tenant rep to find out what’s happening in your local market.

Is modern office design reverting to the scriptorium model?

Here are some fun office spaces courtesy of Forbes to get your creative juices flowing. office


Microsoft office.



Google Office