When the concept of open office space emerged, I thought it was a bad idea. I saw no value in stripping people of their privacy and making them sit in large open spaces, akin to placing a herd of cattle in a pen. However, I remained open, awaiting the results. Well, they are in and it’s not good. A new study from Harvard has shown that when employees move from a traditional office space to an open plan office, it decreases employee collaboration and productivity.
Says one employee, “Our new, modern office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.”
Why did so many organizations jump on the open office plan bandwagon? Less floor space = lower rent. But what cost did these organizations pay in terms of lower productivity thanks to excessive distractions? Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. And I can’t even begin to imagine the toll this took on employee engagement.
What Can I Do? If you are a business owner, just say no, or convert your open office plan back into a collection of private spaces. If you are a worker, use the strong evidence against open office plans to lobby for a more flexible work-from-home policy, which will drive down the cost of office space. Yes, some egos may get bruised, but your organization must operate in a manner that is most effective and efficient for its most valuable asset – employees.
Jill Christensen is an employee engagement expert, best-selling author, and international keynote speaker. She is a Top 100 Global Employee Engagement Influencer, authored the best-selling book, If Not You, Who?, and works with the best and brightest global leaders to improve productivity and retention, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth. Jill can be reached at +1.303.999.9224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.