The Future of Open-Plan Offices

The Future of Open-Plan OfficesMost companies are willing to try new things in hopes of improving teamwork among their employees. While some of these initiatives don’t catch on, one that has is having open office space. The idea here is that if you remove physical walls (e.g. cubicles, private offices) you’ll increase communication and collaboration while also getting more work done.

Health Benefits to Open Office Space

When you research the open office, you’ll see that it has health benefits for your employees including being more physically active while at work and less stressed while away from work. One such study was conducted on 231 U.S. government employees from different offices who worked in three different types of setups. They wore heart sensors and physical activity monitors that backed up this fact by saying they were 20% more physically active than employees who worked in cubicles and 32% more active than people who had their own private office.

Drawbacks to This Type of Office Planning

Although the open office sounds ideal, studies show these offices are more of a hindrance. One such study tracked employees’ conversations and discovered that instead of increasing communication and collaboration this type of an office space increased email and instant messaging conversations instead. They also showed that face-to-face interactions and productivity decreased.

In some cases, the decreased conversations were significant. While employees had originally met face-to-face for about 5.8 hours over a three-week time span, they’re now meeting only 1.7 hours. This means that they were spending about 72% less time face-to-face. Additionally, emails increased dramatically as people were now sending 56% more emails. The same also held true with instant messaging. The word count in both also increased between 67% – 75%.

It’s also interesting how employees started spending more time communicating with some people and less time communicating with others. This suggests that open office planning reconfigures employee networks – something that will impact how your business operates.

Why Open Office Space has This Effect

Researchers believe these results were because people felt as though they were on display when working in an open office space. This causes their mind to become preoccupied with social pressures to look busy instead of being concerned with concentrating on their job. As such, there’s more than the brain’s chemicals at work here – something that was discovered by the Administrative Science Quarterly in June 2012.

In this study a Chinese factory with several similar assembly lines located near one another were set up so managers could improve operations and replicate innovations across all three lines. They hoped that by closely monitoring employees they’d increase productivity and decrease production costs. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened: productivity decreased when managers watched the employees but increased when they didn’t. This demonstrates how people act when they feel like they must put on a show.


None of this is meant to discourage you from embracing open office planning. You may be one of the companies who has great success with it. If you’d like to discuss this further, contact Education Resource Partners for some help today.

Picture Credit: CatalystWorkplaceActivati

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