Cubicles were a cost-effective office solution with so many negatives that Scott Adams earned fame and fortune poking fun at them in his Dilbert cartoons. Even more cost-effective are open-plan layouts, which now make up more than two out of three business office configurations. What appeals most to Executive Decision-Makers are the low costs of open offices. But telling employees you are doing away with privacy to save money is not a winning formula.
So executives sold employees on the notion that open spaces promote collaboration, learning, and a culture of sharing. Some of them even believed it. But study findings show open offices have unintended consequences: they actually decrease the productivity they were supposed to enhance.
Open floor plans expose workers to many acoustical and visual distractions.
The higher levels of noise distract our brains. The constantly-streaming background of people in motion distract our eyes. These constant sights and sounds shorten our attention spans, disturb our ability to concentrate, and increase our frustration. The phenomenon is so widespread, it has even made it to a FedEx commercial.
Jason Feifer of Fast Company calls open offices a gigantic experiment in willful delusion, and the evidence bears him out. Psychologists monitored transitions to open space offices and found employees suffered on every measure. The new space was disruptive and stressful. Instead of feeling closer, employees felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Research shows the loss of productivity is twice that of private offices.
Studies also show while open offices promote casual interactions, they inhibit meaningful exchanges.
The lack of privacy that allows people to intrude on our workspace whenever it suits them is highly disruptive. Studies show the inability to concentrate in open offices has increased 16% in the past few years.
Open floor plans are fine for some tasks, such as call centers, but not for complex activities that provide businesses with competitive advantage. Psychologists know that if you want someone to perform intellectually intense work, you must provide that person with peace and quiet.
Here’s yet one more drawback: open floor plans affect our health, too.
There are more opportunities for sharing germs, resulting in more sick days and higher absenteeism.
So when it comes to workplaces that have increased levels of disruption, stress, resentment, dissatisfaction, and illness, two out of three IS bad.
In this YouTube video, Meat Loaf tells us when two out of three ain’t bad.