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Dome - An Office Without Walls Opens a Whole New World

Dome October 2012

An Office Without Walls Opens a Whole New World

Date: October 5, 2012


The open design of Johns Hopkins Medicine International’s new space in the Thames Street Wharf building is already encouraging new interactions and innovation.
The open design of Johns Hopkins Medicine International’s new space in the Thames Street Wharf building is already encouraging new interactions and innovation.

Given Johns Hopkins Medicine’s trailblazing origins, it’s no surprise that taking its mission overseas requires out-of-the box thinking. The staff of Johns Hopkins Medicine International’s (JHI) Global Services team spend their days doing just that—developing and managing creative solutions for improving health care delivery around the world.

But as they outgrew their offices on the Mount Washington campus and readied themselves to move to a new location in Fells Point, they knew they needed a work environment that would help them better meet this challenge. Today, they have an open-plan design with workspaces separated only by low dividers. Here, open means open—no one has an office, not even CEO Steve Thompson.

“I think there was healthy skepticism early on, before we moved in, on two dimensions: privacy and acoustics,” Thompson says. Four months in, though, there’s consensus that the skepticism was mostly unfounded, and the benefits have exceeded expectations. 

In contrast to the team’s cramped quarters in Mount Washington, the forward-thinking, 35,000-square-foot space in the Thames Street Wharf Building at the corner of Thames and Caroline streets brings everyone out into the light. Bright white furniture, modern conversation areas, 17 glass-walled team rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows provide space to think and plenty of natural light. Describing how refreshed she feels as she leaves each day, one employee says, “the windows make all the difference.”

The design also meets a variety of employee needs: Two of the team rooms have frosted glass so they may be used for prayer, and the women’s private shower (there’s another for men) doubles as a mother room.

Still, the primary goal of the openness—including a European-style café eating space—is to encourage interaction. Not only are teammates sitting together (with space for growth and “pod tables” for small meetings), teams doing related work are near each other. Christina Hicks, senior associate on JHI’s Trinidad and Tobago project, echoes others who say they can more quickly get the answers they need. “We reach out to each other more often because we’re right there,” she says.

Hicks’ team is located next to those working on a massive new contract with the Kuwait Ministry of Health. The similarly structured projects share common objectives, so the guidance of Hicks and her colleagues is an invaluable, and now easily accessible, resource for the Kuwait team.  

Hicks’ colleague, senior associate David Abreu, gives another example of working better. “Let’s say I have a question about our work in Latin America. Sometimes you don’t know exactly the right person to ask. Now I can go to where the team sits and have a quick discussion with everyone at one time.”

JHI’s greatest asset in leading international health care projects is the collective experience of its employees. The Thames Street space puts that asset to the fullest, allowing employees to work smarter and faster. Just as with sound and light, ideas travel fastest when walls aren’t in the way.

—Cymantha Governs

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