We’ve highlighted many examples of open office plans that try to encourage collaboration and democracy in the workplace, from an innovative office design in Utah to the open plan of Menlo Communications in Ann Arbor, Michigan. reader Annemarie Harris writes to tell us about yet another exciting open source office in Michigan:

I work for United Way for Southeastern Michigan. As you may be aware, United Ways throughout the country are in a phase of transformation, changing their business model from one that primarily advances workplace campaigns and one that fosters social change in a collaborative way. We don’t necessarily control how social change occurs, but rather, we serve as the platform for the community to foster and achieve social change, on behalf of all.

Our leader, Michael Brennan, President and CEO of UWSEM, believes that every resource imaginable serves a critical role in advancing community change. One resource, in particular, is the use of space. As a result, he drastically changed United Way’s work environment. We work in an open, collaborative space — 60%+ of us are considered alternative work spacers. 

What’s more, Mr. Brennan believes that it is not a "me space" or "United Way space" but a "We Space," where the community comes together to address and solve social challenges collectively. Staff are held accountable for not only collaboratively amongst ourselves, but also ensuring that we are working with external stakeholders as well.

External folks are welcomed and encouraged to touch down and spend their day/s at United Way – even if it’s not on official United Way business. That includes not only individuals, but groups as well.

We have multiple meeting spaces that are designed to meet the needs of small to large convenings. We are high-tech — wireless, LCDs, white boards, etc. It’s not uncommon to be in the building and have half of the people there on any given day be people I don’t even work with — on the phone, their laptop or meeting with others.

Can space accelerate social change? Absolutely. At the very least, it gives you the type of environment that provides hope that you can change the world.

Annemarie points to an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press that explains a bit more about the project, if you’re interested.

Jeremy Adam Smith


Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith is the editor who helped launch He's the author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, June 2009); co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton

Things I share: Mainly babysitting with other parents! I also share all the transportation I can, through bikes and buses and trains and carpooling.