The design of an office has a measurable impact on employees’ wellbeing. The psychological impact of open plan offices is frequently overlooked by managers of companies. Of course for every situation, there are pros and cons but from the available reserach it would seem there are very few advantages when it comes to open plan offices.
In 1997, a Canadian company asked a group of psychologists from the University of Calgary to monitor employees as they shifted from a traditional office layout to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward, measuring their satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships. The results were less than positive; the employees suffered pursuant to every benchmark: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome. Instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity plummeted.
The advantages of an open plan office
Improves mobility. This is the only advantage I have found whilst doing my research.
The disadvantages of an open plan office
Dimishes collaboration – employees tend to send more emails.
Decreases interactions between employees.
A study found that employees working in small numbers (3 to 9 people) and medium-sized (10 to 20 people) in open-plan offices reported lower levels of well-being and ease of interaction with other employees.
“The open plan offices may have short-term financial benefits, but these benefits may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and well-being,” Dr Otterbring further commented.
More interruptions and distractions leads to less focus on work.
Hot desking – leads to a sense of being unimportant and undervalued, a cog in the wheel. Studies have shown that people forced to share workspaces reported feeling marginalised, experienced more distractions, negative relationships and uncooperative behaviour, not to mention feeling like their supervisors were being less supportive.
No escape from a bad boss. According to a recent Gallup poll of a million U.S. workers, a bad boss is the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs. According to the British Psychological Society, bad bosses can make employees chronically depressed and actively hostile to co-workers.
Employees are more likely to get ill – spread of communicable diseases increases. This increases absenteeism and lowers productivity amd company profits.
Approx 50% of the population (the percentage of introverts) find open office plans anxiety provoking and draining, thereby reducing productivity.
Open plan offices can increase gender inequality. Open plan offices favour more attractive females. and also promote sexual harrassment. Female employees often feel more exposed and ‘on show’ in open plan offices.
Evolution would suggest we all naturally feel safer with our back to a wall. This isn’t always possible in an open plan office and can lead someone to contantly experience low threat-anxiety. The triggering of stress hormones and the automatic: fight, flight, freeze response may be generated consistently whilst in an open plan office. There is a perceived lack of safety in this environment. When you sit with your back exposed, your body constantly produces the stress hormone cortisol, which negatively affects your weight and immune system while creating a greater risk of chronic disease.
Constant multi tasking is exhausting for the brain. Always being aware of surroundings, noise can be fatiguing on a long term basis. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) is involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response. Essentially, workers in open offices are under a constant barrage of adrenaline, their bodies telling them to fight or flee. For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, high levels of epinephrine causes increased discomfort, worry, and distress. Over a period of time, the constant high dose of epinephrine leads to a phase of exhaustion where the body starts to experience the more harmful effects of anxiety.
According to studies recently cited in Psychology Today: “People who were frequent media multitaskers had reductions in their brains’ grey matter–specifically, in areas related to cognitive control and the regulation of motivation and emotion…and exhibited weakness in both working memory (the ability to store relevant information while working on a task) and long-term memory (the ability to store and recall information over longer periods of time).”
The future will be different. Gadgets are more portable now and we don’t need an office anymore to do work. Public transport seems to be struggling to keep up with demand and the roads seem to be getting busier – remote office working seems to be the trend of the future.
Reasons to avoid an open plan office:
- Employers benefit from remote work just as much as employees do.
- Remote work saves businesses and employees money.
- Employees regularly rank remote work as one of the most valuable workplace benefits.
- Unmotivated employees cost companies millions per year in lost producivity.
- 87% of employees are not engaged — leading to absenteeism, high turnover, low productivity, and poor customer service. This can be mitigated in part by offering more autonomy and valuing their opinions.
- Over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their telecommuters.
Many employers are caught up in the incorrect notion that open offices incite creativity and teamwork, and shaking them of it may be a difficult task. Open plan offices do more damage than good. Just ask your employees what they might prefer and work from there. Happy employees leads to more productive businesses with higher profits in the long term. Why do you think the big bosses always have their own offices?
Stats quoted from 2 Harvard researchers: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/1753/20170239