For the past few years, business websites have fallen in love with the forward-thinking open-office designs of tech giants like Google and Facebook.
There’s been a very distinct push among progressive companies to transform the office from a cubicle-heavy workplace into what basically amounts to a labor-intensive studio apartment. Fridges, snacks and gourmet coffee machines are mandatory.
Lounge chairs, bean bags and picnic tables are common. Entertainment-break rooms are the new wave.
And if you think the movement is limited to just tech companies, think again. According to the BBC, “70% of US offices are open concept.”
The whole point of this movement, many people would say, is to spur creativity and collaboration. Fewer walls and offices and less separation leads to a collaborative environment where people can interact with different departments in a fluid manner.
Recently, though, the pendulum of office-design history has started to swing back to the middle. Forbes, The New Yorker and BBC have all featured intelligent arguments against open offices, with the BBC’s most recent piece carrying the title “Why Open Offices Are Bad for Us”.
An Anecdote from the BBC
The BBC article we’ve mentioned a few times was written in January 2017 and was based on the experience of a U.S. business owner named Chris Nagele.
Four years ago, the article states, Nagele decided to go with an open-office concept to transition his work-from-home team to a collaborative environment.
“It quickly became clear, though, that Nagele had made a huge mistake,” reporter Bryan Borzykowski wrote. “Everyone was distracted, productivity suffered and the nine employees were unhappy, not to mention Nagele himself.”
The experiment was short-lived – according to the article, Nagele moved his team into a traditional office space where each office had a door on it.
To curb any weakness in providing purely anecdotal evidence, Borzykowski listed the following facts about open-office environments:
- We are 15% less productive in open spaces
- We have a hard time focusing
- We’re twice as likely to get sick
- Small distractions can make us lose focus for up to 20 minutes
But the stats and facts listed in this article are just the beginning.
The New Yorker: We’re Wired for Privacy
In their January 2014 article about the dangers of open offices, The New Yorker dug into several research papers to understand why the quickly growing trend may not be the best for workers’ productivity.
One of their key points was that our brains need a sense of spatial privacy in order to feel psychologically private enough to think, create and work effectively.
This conclusion was the result of an overview of a March 1980 scholarly article titled, “Privacy at Work: Architectural Correlates of Job Satisfaction and Job Performance.”
The article, which was published in The Academy of Management Journal, reviewed the results of a trio of studies on how privacy both in our workspace and our mind can impact our job satisfaction.
The study concluded there was a definite link between architectural privacy (cubicles) and psychological privacy, which in turn had a positive effect on job satisfaction and performance:
“Results of all three studies showed architectural privacy associated with psychological privacy. Both forms or privacy were associated with satisfaction with workspace and job satisfaction,” concluded the authors of the 1980 article.
Forbes: Sound Privacy is a Big Deal
The final counter-argument to the open office craze comes from a 2016 Forbes article from contributor David Burkus.
In his article, Burkus talks about the results of a 2005 study that recorded 42,764 observation from 303 offices in the United States.
“Unsurprisingly, they found that enclosed private offices had the overall highest satisfaction rate and that open office plans had the lowest,” Burkus wrote. “But it was when they looked at individual dimensions that they found a few surprises.”
The biggest complaint from open-office employees was the level of noise they had to deal with on a daily basis. Another 25% to 30% said they didn’t like the noise levels in their open-office plans.
One final thought from Burkus:
“The desire for more collaboration among employees was shared by all, but those in open office plans may not have found it to be worth all of the stress and distraction from the bombardment of noise.”
Cutting Down on Distractions With Cubicles
If you’re starting to rethink the value of open offices and want to make some changes, contact us. We have a variety of privacy solutions that can drastically cut down on workplace distractions and improve efficiency and focus.