Life in the open-plan office

Open-plan offices were revolutionary – they broke down the barriers between co-workers that cubicles had created. The change gave way to collaboration, communication and involvement. But it has its downsides also. 95% of people say they struggle to focus at work because of the open-plan design.

In a study funded by Harvard Business School, findings showed that open office spaces with limited spatial boundaries, actually decreased the volume of face-to-face interaction significantly, by approximately 70%. And virtual interaction, via email and instant messenger, increased. Rather than increasing face-to-face conversations and promoting collaboration, open spaces appear to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from team members—the exact opposite result the architectural changes were supposed to produce.
The study also suggests that employees don’t feel they can speak out loud in open offices because being in such close proximity, they would distract their colleagues. Instead, employees stay tethered to their workstations and resort to chatting online.

And a distraction it is. In a survey commissioned by office-equipment maker Poly and conducted by research firm Future Workplace, 76% of respondents said a co-worker talking loudly on the phone created a moderate, high, or very high level of distraction for them while at work in their primary workspace, making it the most commonly cited disruption in the survey. Noise from a co-worker talking nearby was cited by 65% of respondents.
Distractions are not just frustrating but they can be exhausting and costly to the productivity levels as well. It has been surveyed that people lose 2.1 hours a day to Office distractions, we spend on average only 11 minutes on a task before we get distracted and it takes about 25 minutes to fully return to the task.

More and more companies are starting to understand that totally open spaces are not the best solution and that employees need more private spaces to have the best performance and experience. Open environments should be private, too. Greater degrees of openness are associated with high performance; but noise, privacy, and the ability to focus remain key determinants of workplace effectiveness.

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Case study: Softrend’s Office >
Focus-based office >


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