Those Cool Open Office Spaces are bad for employees

Those Cool Open Office Spaces are bad for employees

7/7/2021 Update: Fast Company has also come to the same conclusions with their own study.

Inc Magazine just wrote a damning article on open office spaces. Citing the most comprehensive studies done on open work spaces, the conclusions paint a bleak picture for open office spaces – in almost every metric. This shouldn’t be a shock, many of these studies were done in the 1950’s and came to the exact same conclusions. Does this look familiar to you:

Besides the clothing styles and desks facing the same direction, it could be almost any open office of today. Why did we quit working this way in the 50’s? Because studies showed it was bad on many levels. We appear to now be re-learning the exact same lessons we knew 70 years ago.

And all this after Indie developers are learning to throw out working all the time in favor of actual office hours too. Turns out those ‘big old companies’ are all being proven right. After all, they got the way they are – big, old and profitable – by researching and using the best-known methods.

Inc’s article cites numerous studies showing that open-plan offices are both a productivity disaster and a false economy. (The productivity drain more than offsets the savings in square footage.) There are even some videos showing how wretched (and in some cases ridiculous) these environments truly are.

In case you weren’t yet convinced, here’s some new evidence from a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. office buildings–by far the most comprehensive research on this issue. The results, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, came to the following conclusion:

“Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.”

Don’t let the jargon confuse you. The term “proxemics issues” refers to how people feel uncomfortable when they’re forced into close proximity with other people. To be perfectly clear, here’s what the paragraph says: “Open-plan offices aren’t worth it.”

BTW, it isn’t just the noise and the interruptions that cause people to hate open-plan offices. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article:

“All of this social engineering has created endless distractions that draw employees’ eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity.”

Unlike noise pollution, which can be remedied with a pair of headsets, there’s no way to block out the visual pollution, short of throwing a towel over your head and screen like a toddler’s play tent.

Need more convincing? How about the fact employees in open office spaces use dramatically more sick days than their office and cubicle counterparts.

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