I am of the opinion that:
Closed Offices can increase collaboration.
This sounds counter-intertuitive but it goes something like this:
In an 'open' office area, folks are trying to concentrate and work, so several things happen:
1) They don't want to make noise that interrupts everyone just to ask 1 person a question.
2) They are not sure if their question is valid and if they would look inferior just for asking it (ego).
3) They can't laugh loudly or express any overt emotions or noise without potentially disturbing others.
Whereas in a private office they can work and concentrate and they when they need help or to collaborate they can just go to, or bring in, a fellow employee.
This setup is not easy however as it:
- requires a very high level of trust. More than a standard employer-employee relationship.
- looks strange to others. Non IT folks don't have the same needs for quite and concentration and may just see things like private offices as personal 'perks'.
- requires more formal structure for inter-personal relationships where are still very important. This can be address with a daily scrum, daily lunches, etc. One of my friends that has a virtual team doesn't do scrum (doesn't suit his org) but does have a daily virtual lunch, just to keep in touch with everyone. This means that when inter-personal communication is needed, people have good personal relationships that will encourage good communication.