Today there's a real move in the office world to move to open-concept offices: offices with either very low walls, or no walls at all. I think the idea is that it fosters collaboration. There's the often-cited example of how the idea for the iPhone (or something equally revolutionary) coming out of a chance encounter in the hallway.
But there is so much wrong with this that seems obvious to me (but apparently not to decision makers). For example, using the iPhone-hallway-conversation story, the idea likely came before the hallway conversation; it was simply first expressed then. Who knows under what circumstances the actual idea happened under? (I'd wager it was when someone was taking a shower.) Then, that's just the idea. The implementation would take hundreds of hours of engineering, which would require a lot of concentration.
“ok, this coding interview is just for us to see how you normally approach problem solving”— I Am Devloper (@iamdevloper) May 26, 2016
* drives home, steps into shower *
Sure. Ideas can take place in the hallway. But don't bring the hallway to my office. I can't concentrate with you collaborating all around me.
To me, this is obvious. I don't work as well with constant distractions. Neither do you.
For a lot of people I talk to, this is far from obvious. Whenever I hear someone say "I think I'd work better in an open-office plan" I want to alert HR. If someone thinks they work better with distractions, they probably cheated to get into the organization because they probably aren't smart enough to have earned it.
But, like the person who thinks they do their best work under pressure (who is probably confusing the feelings of accomplishment and "phewf" after completion, rather than evaluating hurried work against a control situation without the pressure), there are a lot of people who seem to think they work better with distractions. People are notoriously bad at knowing these sorts of things. Luckily we have science to tell us what really happens in an open-office plan.
Hearing someone say "I think I'd work better in that kind of environment" is like hearing someone say "I think I'd enjoy a diet of Pepsi and Doritos.". Yeah, it would be nice in the moment, but over time the effects would be horrible. How do we know? Not feelings; Science!
It seems I can't go two months without seeing another article repeating the same obviousness: open-plan offices are bad for productivity. I want to keep this blog post as a place to collect them. I'll add them as I find them. Feel free to add any other articles, supporting or not, in the comments.
Before I get to the list of articles, I'll post this above. In fact, this one article sums up everything in the list. There are lots of links to specific articles and studies in this one article. It's kinda all right here:What Science Says About Open Offices. FTA:
To start, a review of over 300 papers from 67 journals found that open office layouts “were found to be highly significant in affecting occupant productivity.” It added that “sound and acoustic strategies should be given high priority in office design to achieve a high degree of occupant productivity.” In a similar vein, another review of more than 100 studies on open offices found that the layout consistently led to lower rates of concentration and focus, and a third paper, which analyzed more than 50 surveys on open offices, found consistent complaints about noise and interruptions.
And now for the list:
- Too much collaboration hurts productivity.
- How open offices are killing us (62% more days of absence due to illness, 85% of people in an open-office are dissatisfied with it, lack of noise and visual privacy - the fishbowl effect, emotionally damaging to introverts.)
- In one empirical study it was found that open office environments reduce face-to-face collaboration. (Link to actual study.) Face-to-face interaction fell by 72%, 56% more emails were sent, and IM usage increased by 67% probably because
When you remove any semblance of structure to human interaction, people get overloaded and withdrawal into private, electronic cocoons.
- What is the future of office spaces?
- Will Hot-Desking Kill Your Company?
- Why office noise bothers some people more than others (It's worse for introverts.)
- Open Plan Office Anxiety: The Top 8 Stressors of the Modern Office