Open offices should encourage collaboration between employees, but the truth is open offices aren’t really collaborative after all.
Supposedly, open offices improve communication and collaboration. However, a recent study published by The Royal Society indicates that the open office may be doing the exact opposite.
According to the study, face-to-face communication takes a 70 percent dive in open offices. Instead of fostering collective energy the study found that “open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”
The research also found that productivity declined after eliminating spatial boundaries. Considering 70 percent of Americans work in open offices, this is an issue companies are going to have to tackle in order to recoup possible productivity losses.
Job satisfaction can be lowered in open offices. A study published in SAGE Journals found that employees are irritated most by the sound of conversations, ringing phones and machines in the office. Noises like these are unavoidable in most open offices. They hinder productivity and are frustrating for employees who can’t tune out unless they isolate themselves further by listening to headphones.
Another study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health found that employees who work in open offices take an average of 62 percent more sick days versus other layouts. This is because viruses and bacteria spread more easily in open offices, but it could also be because the lack of privacy in open offices is stressful and stress makes sickness more likely.
Although there are a number of challenges with open offices, they can be done right. Harvard Business Review determined what makes certain open offices successful in their research. They found that employees are more likely to respond positively to an open office layout when an employer conveys the vision for the space beforehand, is enthusiastic about the transition and encourages employees to adapt the space to their needs. The report notes, “When leaders encouraged adaptation and teams felt comfortable claiming the space as their own, they reported more place identity and generally felt better about the objective features of the space, like privacy, noise, and lighting.”
Communicate changes in office layouts, be enthusiastic about the space and allow flexibility so employees can make their office space more comfortable. Open offices have their drawbacks, but it’s still possible to create an environment tailored to the needs of your employees. Take back productivity, job satisfaction, and reduce absenteeism by making your office space work.