Physical Boundaries Are Important for Employees’ Productivity

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Removing cubicles from an office and turning it into an open office might not be a good idea. A new study analyzed these offices and it revealed that tearing down walls reduces the productivity of the office members.

The research examined employees from two Fortune 500 multinational companies. Researchers observed that face-to-face interaction dropped by about 70% after cubicles were removed and the office became an open one.

The findings were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and they also revealed that the use of email increased between 22 percent and 56 percent. The productivity of the office was also diminished.

Walls aren’t a bad thing

Most offices have decided to remove walls. However, while companies believe that this will improve communication, “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).” This is something which Stephen Turban and Ethan Bernstein of Harvard wrote.

Workers have also declared that they are not excited about of the open architecture changes. According to employees, they feel as if they don’t have privacy anymore. Additionally, there is a higher level of noise and there are many distractions which make it hard for them to focus.

There have also been studies which indicated that the workers’ health might be affected by open offices. Privacy concerns are also important in this situation. “Consistent with the fundamental human desire for privacy and prior evidence that privacy may increase productivity, when office architecture makes everyone more observable or ‘transparent’, it can dampen [face-to-face] interaction, as employees find other strategies to preserve their privacy; for example, by choosing a different channel through which to communicate,” the study wrote.


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