Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2007, page 59-71.
The open office
A technology promoting interaction and knowledge sharing at work?
Eva Bjerrum, Jakob Lauring og Anne Bøgh Fangel
Recently, there has been a growing interest in knowledge sharing as an important asset in a competitive business environment. This has led to a number of open offices being constructed with the aim of improving knowledge sharing. In the following debate some authors have claimed that open offices led to more knowledge sharing while others have asserted a decrease in knowledge sharing as a result of the new physical surroundings. Based on ethnographic field research we argue that the open office as a physical arrangement should not be conceived as a change agent as such. It is our argument that no linear and causal relation can be predicted in the relation between open offices and knowledge sharing. On the contrary, we argue that there is a dynamic and dialectical interrelation between knowledge sharing as linked to social processes and the physical surroundings. Consequently, the effect of the office arrangement on knowledge sharing should be related also to a number of contextual cues – such as work values, organizational culture, management styles etc. In other words, the office is not determining for the outcome but may be used actively by individual agents. This will sometimes create feed-back situations where the organisational culture and the physical office influence each other in a dynamic way either increasing or decreasing interaction and knowledge sharing – as a virtuous or vicious circle. As implications, we wish to direct more attention to the management of work processes and work values. If the management evaluate positively work processes characterised by an individual effort this may work against the aim of increasing knowledge sharing.