Open Plan Offices – A Failed Experiment?

Open Plan Offices - A Failed Experiment?

If you’re searching for commercial space for rent you might be considering moving into a building with an open plan design. While this office design is great in theory you might want to rethink the type of office leasing you’re looking for – open plan offices have a few problems that may affect the workflow of your employees. 

The theory of an open plan design is sound. The lack of small, enclosed rooms (such as private offices) coupled with a wide, open layout theoretically should encourage workers and managers alike to interact with one another and prompt collaborations.

However, a fairly recent study has revealed that workers are doing the exact opposite of collaborating with one another — they’re keeping to themselves more than ever. To conduct the study, researchers used microphones and electronic badges to track email use and the level of interaction among employees.

The study revealed that employees had decreased face-to-face interactions by 73%. Instead of interacting with one another employees buried themselves in text messages and emails which both saw an increase of over 67%.

What's the Argument for Open Plan Offices?

What’s the Argument for Open Plan Offices?

The concept of open plan office spaces seems like a great idea. Studies show that our social environment contributes significantly to our ability to stay motivated and work that much harder. Furthermore, work environments today are places where “playing well with others” has become more essential than ever.

That’s why the idea of an open plan office makes complete sense. The workplaces that have higher interaction amongst employees tend to not only improve work output but also improve job satisfaction, as well.

One major influencer of employee productivity, job satisfaction, and improved willingness to collaborate with others is the design of the workplace (theoretically anyway). The entire point of the open plan office concept was to create a wide space that discourages independent work and encourages more social interaction.

The open plan office concept was all about creating a sense of community — solo work would be reduced in favor of a group based effort which would (theoretically) improve overall work output.

It turns out workers need one vital factor to concentrate – privacy

One aspect of productivity that the open plan office design didn’t take into account was the fact that employees require privacy to get work done. Imagine yourself in an open plan office — every movement, every bit of conversation, every individual — all visible to you and serving as distractions from your work.

On average it takes about 23 minutes to get back on track after you’ve been distracted. Thus, employees try to make up for these distractions by expending additional mental energy to regain their concentration. As a result, they tend to communicate even less with their coworkers, research shows.

During these periods of constant distraction workflow is interrupted, and the employee will likely perform at a lower level than average. Efficiency and productivity will decrease, and mistakes will arise.

Focus is the key word here. The failure of open plan offices lies with the fact that employees aren’t able to focus. There are just too many people doing too many things in too dense an area for anyone to truly concentrate on their work.

What the cubicle design gets right is that it allows employees to bury themselves within their own little world as they focus on their work, free of distractions. Focused work is the key to productivity. When focus is taken away so is an employee’s ability to stay truly productive.

Why aren’t employees making more of an effort to collaborate?

Whether intentional or not, open plan offices were designed to increase collaboration and interactivity at the expense of concentration and focus. The problem with this concept is that employees expend emotional and cognitive resources attempting to make up for their lack of focus. As a result, they’re not as willing to collaborate with others.

Further research indicates that the combination of lack of privacy along with increased crowding in the workplace often puts workers on the defensive and office relationships are strained as a result.

The real reason why open plan offices fail

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for office designs. As individuals, we all view workplaces differently. Where one person may find an open plan office to be the perfect environment for getting collaborative work done another person may see it to be incredibly distracting.

Concentration and focus will always be the foundation of productivity. That’s why organizations should attempt to find a workplace solution that not only allows employees to have a certain degree of privacy (which leads to increased focus) but also fosters the need for more interactions amongst employees.

If you happen to be searching for office space for rent in Clifton Park, we can accommodate you. Atrium properties has over 40 years of experience in building and managing office buildings. We always ensure our tenants are paired with the ideal commercial property for rent because we know that if our tenants are successful, we’re successful. Contact us today for more information.

Featured Image credit: Benn CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons
In Post Image Credit: geralt / Pixabay

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