Open offices are as bad as they seem — they reduce face-to-face time by 70%

Open offices are as bad as they seem — they reduce face-to-face time by 70%

Tearing down walls and cubicles in offices may actually build up more barriers to productivity and collaboration, according to a new study (The Royal Society -

Employees at two Fortune 500 multinational companies saw face-to-face interaction time drop by about 70 percent, the use of email increase between 22 percent and 56 percent, and productivity slip after their traditional office spaces were converted to open floor plans—that is, ones without walls or cubicles that ostensibly create barriers to interaction. The findings, published recently in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggest that removing physical dividers may, in fact, make it harder for employers to foster collaboration and collective intelligence among their employees.

Many companies have waged a so-called “war on walls” to try to create such vibrant workspaces, the authors Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban of Harvard wrote. But, “what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office—is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

Before the study, it was clear from employee surveys and media reports that workers are not fans of the open architecture trend. Employees complain of noise, distractions, lowered productivity, a loss of privacy, and a feeling of being “watched.” On top of that, studies have suggested that open offices can be bad for workers’ health.

I've always suspected this but I think there was a lot of PR promoting open plan offices years ago that kept convincing people they were better. I can't tune out of discussions nearby so end up having my train of thought constantly interrupted. Does no-one think it is ironic that those who stay in clsoed offices get to decide everyone else works in an open office? If it is really so good for collaboartion why is everyone from the CEO downwards not together in an open office?



Open offices are as bad as they seem—they reduce face-to-face time by 70%
To encourage unbounded, collective intelligence, offices may need physical boundaries.

Reshare Article To