"For some people, “open office” means tearing down the walls, installing benches, and giving workers the option to sit wherever they want—as long as it’s somewhere in the big open space. For others it represents one choice in an ecosystem of workspaces that allow people to work wherever they want."
The debate about "open offices" is more about semantics than workplaces. Before we start the bashing or praising, we need to get on the same page about what it means.
This article suggest we focus instead on creating places that cover these "seven critical c's: concentration, contemplation, collaboration, creativity, conversation, community, and caffeine.
Journaled study measured a 70% reduction in face-to-face interaction after the introduction of an open office
Organizations’ pursuit of increased workplace collaboration has led managers to transform traditional office spaces into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing architectures with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries, yet there is scant direct empirical research on how human interaction patterns change as a result of these architectural changes."
In two separate field-based studies, the researchers documented a 70% reduction in face-to-face interaction after the introduction of an open office environment. Email communications increased by 25% to 50% during the same period. Co-located teams suffered the same decline as those that were not.
Pulling from other research, the article stresses:
- the relative richness of face-to-face over email and texting
- the importance of intermittent, rather than constant social interaction on collaborative work and problem solving
It concludes that open offices have the perverse effect of reducing, rather than increasing productive communication.
This claims to be the first study to empirically measure both face-to-face and electronic interaction before and after the introduction of an open office environment.
The measurement tools included sociometric badges (equipped with microphones, infrared sensors, accelerometers, and bluetooth sensors). Digital communications were collected from company servers. All participants were volunteers (52 in one case and 100 in the other). HR data indicated no bias.
How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace
This study of 600 executives and 600 employees shows a big disconnect between how each group sees the problem of office noise. While only 35% of executives say noise reduces their employees' satisfaction and productivity, over half (50%) of employees say it does. The report suggests the problem may lie in the fact that executives don't feel the pain. Sixty-two percent still have private offices, compared to only 14% of employees.
The study also uncovers the need for better remote work tools, technology integration, and a clearer understanding of work-life boundaries.
If office noise is such a problem, why don’t noisy coffee shops, airports, or co-working spaces bother us?
"The problem may be that, in our offices, we can’t stop ourselves from getting drawn into others’ conversations or from being interrupted while we’re trying to focus. Indeed, the EEG researchers found that face-to-face interactions, conversations, and other disruptions negatively affect the creative process."
This HBR article suggests the problem with noisy offices is more a matter of who's making the noise than how loud it is. Recent brain science suggests just the right amount of noise (i.e. coffee shop level) may enhance creativity.
Using nature to battle noise pollution in the office: Plantronics takes a creative approach to open office distractions
In the Netherlands, global headset manufacturer Plantronics is finding novel new ways to counter noise pollution in its new flagship smart workspace.
More and more businesses move to open plan environments in an attempt to engender higher collaboration between employees and better utilisation of the floor space by bringing in flexible or smart working practices.” But these actions, According to Paul Clark, Managing Director for Plantronics in Europe and Africa, are putting people in a “melting pot of noise.”
- Leesman’s research says dissatisfaction with “noise levels” is the strongest likely indicator that a person’s workplace is affecting their productivity
- Plantronics research shows that 93% of office workers claim to be adversely affected by the noise in their workplace
- 73% report that their employer takes no action to address the problem
- 61% of respondents say that they take matters into their own hands by listening to music and other audio through headphones
Plantronics opted for biophilic solutions, adding the sound of running water as an “overlay to the general hubbub” of the office.