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How open offices are stifling productivity

Posted by Natalie Runnerstrom on 8/16/18 9:39 AM

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It may not be an entirely new concept, but open-office floor plans can be found nearly everywhere now. What was meant to lead to creativity and collaboration may actually be a hindrance by not providing enough privacy and comfortability. Let's wander through the open halls to look at the benefits and downsides in the modern workspace.

If you're unhappy with your open office, then you could probably blame Frank Lloyd Wright for creating the ideology (and design) behind open offices. It's not entirely his fault, though — Wright's early 1900s "open" office was less of today's "bullpen" style that's calculated by the dollar per square foot. Which brings us to the first point...

BULLPEN

If done properly, a more open office with employees working in close quarters can inspire healthy competition. People are motivated by others, so being in the mix of things with more experienced coworkers can inspire younger professionals to learn quickly.

On the other hand, the messiness of being in such confined spaces can actually reduce productivity. Imagine being in a room full of people, but you're the only one who speaks your language — everyone is talking, but no one can actually focus. Well, that's kind of like being jumbled together with people in different departments. Hearing conversations that aren't relevant to your work is distracting and can ruin your workflow.

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Some studies of open offices vs. cubicles have found that open offices actually decrease face-to-face time by 70 percent. Emails and chat apps dominate over physical conversations like a room of teenagers texting away on their phones. This could be for many reasons: privacy, being on a need-to-know basis, or not wanting to distract others. 

Whatever the reason may be, this layout could be hindering social skills among professionals by causing anxiety. Studies have found that open office floor plans make people feel like they're constantly being watched, something psychologists refer to as the "spotlight effect." If you can't feel relaxed at work, how can you perform your best? 

You might try to find ways to feel comfortable and get on with the grind. One very popular method of creating imaginary walls for employees comes in the forms of headphones. If you've ever walked around an open office, then you've seen at least a few people plugged in. It allows people to go into a personal bubble where ambient noise is removed and productivity can shine. The question is: Should you have to be in an office where you can only truly focus by putting on headphones? 

*Cough cough* I'm Sick

Stress can do many things to you including wreaking havoc on your immune system, which needs to be in tip-top shape for you to be at your best. Everyone gets sick, but open offices might be creating an environment that creates a more vicious cycle of illness. Being in closer quarters without any barriers means germs can spread like wildfire, and even the healthiest in the office can fall victim to more frequent colds and coughs.

We may be seeing the trial and error period on open offices meeting its end. For some, this is a necessity — the cost of operating a new business doesn't come cheap, nor does the rent. But if you're considering making a switch in scenery, it might be worth your while to see if this plan is really the right one for your company. 

Topics: Design, Corporate Workplace