Last year, the Center for Scientific Review's new director declared
an "open door" policy by taking his office door off its hinges
and having it removed. Now, in a further effort, he has torn down
the walls that separated him from other staff members and created
what may be NIH's first full-fledged, wall-less director's office.
The result is an airy, welcoming suite where staffers feel they
are working alongside each other and the director as well.
goal was to transform a director's 'castle' into an 'agora' — a
democratic open space," director Dr. Toni Scarpa says. "It's designed
to be an interactive space where everyone feels at home, with easy
chairs, a small library area and an espresso machine." A native
of Italy, he brought in the specialty coffeemaker to welcome visitors
"Plus," he adds, "an open office space is cheaper. Walls cost
money. Separate vents and mixers for heating and air conditioning
in each small office cost a lot."
Scarpa isn't talking about cubicles either — those padded
office cells, the bane of Dilbert and his cartoon officemates,
where HR Magazine estimates 70 percent of office workers
spend their hours.
By contrast, an open-space office is a radical departure embraced
initially by business innovators such as Motorola and Progressive
Insurance. Open-space management offices are probably found in
only about 10 percent of businesses and are even rarer in government.
According to a 2002 report of the National Federation of Independent
Business, tearing down the walls eliminates "the psychological
distance" between the various levels of a company or organization. "An
open-space office brings everyone together," according to the report,
enabling managers to make better decisions because they are in
touch with day-to-day realities.
"Employees find it easier to approach managers with operational
questions [and] are able to learn their jobs quicker and perform them
better [while] managers themselves become more involved in the
The NFIB report adds, "Experience has shown that when upper-level
management and other employees are sitting in the same general
area, less time is spent by employees and managers alike on unproductive
For conversations that may require privacy, the new CSR space
provides a small private office for anyone to use.
Beside the wall-less director's suite, other areas in CSR's offices
in Rockledge II are being renovated more traditionally to accommodate
a staff that outgrew its old offices as the number of grant applications
has soared in recent years. Additional space changes are anticipated
as electronic grant applications are phased in, with electronic
R01 applications now planned for Feb. 1, 2007. Space now necessary
to store multi-page applications will be converted to other uses
"Our wall-less offices, along with new Explorer staff awards for
innovation and a new communications plan that encourages feedback
and teamwork are efforts to revitalize and make more efficient
the 60-year-old system of independent peer review we provide for
NIH," said Scarpa. "As stewards and managers of peer review," he
continued, "we at CSR should be open to new ideas that will help
us give the best service to the people we serve — NIH, grant
applicants and the public."