As a workplace designer, my media feeds and inbox were full of summaries like that of the recent Harvard Business School study on the impact of open-office plans (“Open-office spaces can turn work into a fishbowl,” Aug. 3). Many of the headlines had a doomsday tone, and our clients were reaching out to us, asking: “Have we got it all wrong?” As with many such headlines, the story is always more nuanced than it appears.
The work environment in the Harvard study was described as one without walls or dividers, with seemingly no ancillary spaces — an unlikely solution for any business.
If workers feel like there’s nowhere to have an impromptu face-to-face conversation, then an increase of electronic communication makes sense. Certain conversations with colleagues demand privacy; others require a quiet backdrop. Further, if you’re having a conversation at someone’s desk, you’d likely be cognizant of disturbing that person’s neighbor. It would make sense that a large percentage of people feel exposed communicating in the open, in front of their peers.
A successful workplace gives people a variety of spaces to meet and communicate face-to-face or to do heads-down work alone. Choice, variety and balance are characteristics of a productive open-plan workplace. Even the definition of “open plan” is controversial. No reputable architect or designer would recommend a completely open plan as is seemingly described in the study. What readers can ask of their employers and designers is a workplace that is designed to support the work they do and engages the physical, emotional, intellectual and aspirational elements of that work.
The Harvard study is just a small sample of workplace design, but the idea of gathering this kind of empirical data is fascinating, and I hope more Fortune 500 companies are willing to invest in it. Target? Best Buy? UnitedHealth Group? What do you think?
Lisa Pool, Minneapolis
In governor’s race, support for Erin Murphy, Lori Swanson
Remember the “Happy Warrior,” Hubert Humphrey? He helped found the Minnesota DFL Party and, as a U.S. senator, was lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He even introduced the first initiative to create the Peace Corps.
Well, Erin Murphy, the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, could be Minnesota’s next “Happy Warrior.” She brings Humphrey’s amazing dedication and energy to everything she does. Let me explain.
First, her ideas. She’d move us toward single-payer health care by letting people buy into MinnesotaCare. She’d build a high-speed, border-to-border broadband network to help rural communities thrive. And she’d fill the gaps in transportation and education spending so that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to get where they need to be. All this while keeping the budget in structural balance.
Her record: Erin served as majority leader in the Minnesota House when the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton increased the minimum wage, cut income taxes, guaranteed everyone the right to marry the person they love, and paid back the $2.8 billion then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the GOP borrowed from schools to “balance” the state budget. Oh, and Erin et al. left Minnesota ranked as the third-best state in the nation to make a living and fifth in job growth.
Erin and the DFL team did all this while balancing the state budget. Honestly balancing that budget.
With all the lies coming out of Washington today, Minnesota needs a Happy Warrior more than ever. Vote Erin Murphy for governor in the DFL primary on Aug. 14.
John Wells, Eagan
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I am looking at this list of wannabes, and for both Republicans and Democrats, it is most interesting. In the past, we have had great governors from both political parties. This 87-year-old veteran remembers Harold Stassen and Arne Carlson as great Republican governors. Also, from the Democratic Party, Wendell Anderson and the soon-to-retire Mark Dayton.
On the current list, I see only one that could end up as a great governor. Lori Swanson has already done so very much for us, the people of this state, as one of the very best state attorneys general in this country. Her running mate, Rick Nolan, has won many elections and is so well-known in northern Minnesota (where I grew up on the Mesabi Iron Range) that I can’t imagine that area voting for anyone else. Whatever Nolan promises, he makes happen. Swanson, I believe, would make us proud to say that she is our governor.
Alan Stone, Minnetonka
ST. PAUL CITY COUNCIL
The standard I seek
I attended the July 30 League of Women Voters forum during which candidates for St. Paul’s Fourth Ward City Council answered a series of questions about local issues (“Fourth Ward forum back on track,” July 31). I wanted to see firsthand what the Star Tribune reporter meant when she noted that front-runners (Shirley Erstad and Mitra Jalali Nelson) reflected the old and new guard of the city’s DFL.
The DFL standard-bearer Nelson was long on her support for the $15-minimum-wage proposal, a vibrant and thriving entertainment area near the new soccer stadium, and affordable-housing development, among other issues, but woefully short on how the city would pay for them. She cited her experience as grass-roots efforts to bring people together as a member of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s staff for the past few years and as an adviser to St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. Bottom line — no real experience working in St. Paul neighborhoods, but a lot of DFL Party connections to start her working her way up the party ladder to higher elected office. I got no sense from her comments that she understood the Fourth Ward or its diverse neighborhoods. Instead, she asked us to trust her — that she would learn on the job. If that’s the new guard of the DFL, then I think I’ll pass on joining up with the new guard.
Erstad is the type of person the DFL should be grooming for elected office. I was drawn to her intense engagement in the Fourth Ward and St. Paul in general. She is awaiting a study of the economic and workforce impact of the $15-an-hour proposal as well as listening to employers and employees before either supporting or opposing the proposal. I know that the $15-an-hour minimum wage is coming, but I still would like to hear from both sides. Erstad also wants the soccer team to be more engaged in bringing good-paying full-time jobs to the Midway and in finding ways to assuage residents’ concerns about noise generated by the stadium. She supports increased affordable housing throughout the city, but in a thoughtful, deliberative way that melds the best of St. Paul’s past with its future.
Listen, folks: The days of political kingmakers in backrooms picking local representatives have long passed. We need DFL leaders who listen to their members, particularly at the neighborhood level. Experience counts. And in this race, Erstad is the clear winner in that regard.
Tom Collins, St. Paul
MINNEAPOLIS CITY COUNCIL
Civility needed at meetings
I attended the meeting of the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee on Wednesday, and it made me sad (“Mpls. Council backs measure to check cops,” Aug. 2). I didn’t really agree with either side, but the behavior of those who attended was appalling. Many good points were shared, but it seemed that if your opinion was not with the majority, you were either yelled at or shunned. The opinions against the shared police oversight were mostly not shared or not heard due to the aggressiveness of some attendees. People need to be more civilized at meetings such as this, especially when we’re trying to solve a problem.
Brandon Kotula, Minneapolis