This is the age of the open office, of half-cubicles and clustered desks, of huge rooms of long communal tables with white-collar workers shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes wearing $350 noise-cancelling headphones to block out the clatter. Then over to the side, maybe there's an airy lounge space with sofas and a comfy chair or two. Maybe there's even a ping pong table on the way to the bathroom.
This way of working is often traced to tech startups: The open office feels nimble, informal, and social, just like tech startups, right? Then older companies saw the results from Silicon Valley — flexibility! innovation! collaboration! — and they wanted in. To grow like a tech company, why not look like one? The open office spread, and now seventy percent of American offices are open plan. That's how the story goes.
But the idea to tear down the walls in search of creativity did not come from Silicon Valley.