Open-plan offices have taken off because of a desire to increase interaction and collaboration among workers. But an innovative new study has found that employees in open-plan offices spend 73% less time in face-to-face interactions. Email and messaging use shot up by over 67%.
The study is the first to track the impacts of open-plan offices using objective measures of communication. It used electronic badges and microphones to monitor interactions among employees and tracked changes in email use.
Why go open plan?
Workplaces that facilitate more frequent and higher-quality contact with others have been shown to have improved communication and collaboration on tasks, job satisfaction and social support.
The design of the workplace significantly influences this, by supporting or detracting from interdependent work.
Building a strong sense of community has been a key factor in the success of the coworking space provider WeWork. This has been largely achieved through the physical work environment – clean spaces, narrow hallways, communal kitchens and the like.
Privacy and concentration are critical
But despite the pursuit of collaboration in workplaces, the need for concentration and focused individual work is also increasing.
Knowledge work requires employees to attend to specific tasks by gathering, analysing and making decisions using multiple sources of information. When any of these cognitive processes are interrupted, inefficiency and mistakes increase.
Why open plan doesn’t necessarily lead to collaboration
In many open-plan offices, the drive for increased interaction and collaboration comes at the expense of the ability to focus and concentrate.
Getting the balance right
Emerging research has shown that individuals view similar work environments differently. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, as is traditional in open-plan design, work environments should provide various options that support employees working effectively.
Organisations should focus on providing workplaces that support the requirements for privacy and focus, as well as interaction and collaboration.
To achieve this, greater emphasis needs to be placed on both visual and auditory privacy, particularly the use of acoustic treatments, as well as the layout and appearance of the workplace as a whole.
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- ^ compromise employees’ ability (www.sciencedirect.com)
- ^ plays a big role (psycnet.apa.org)
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- ^ foundation (www.sciencedirect.com)
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- ^ research (journals.aom.org)
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- ^ focused (www.tandfonline.com)
Authors: Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University