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Open plan offices ‘bad for workers’ say various studies

Advice & guides

The modern trend is most definitely towards ‘open-plan’ offices. However, various studies have suggested that this trend may not entirely be a positive one.

Dr Nicole Millard, an expert in data, analytics and emerging technology for telecoms giant BT, has suggested that the average worker in an open-plan office is distracted in some way every three minutes, on average. It then takes between eight and 20 minutes to get fully back on track after the distraction.

University of Sydney research found that open-plan office workers were less satisfied with their office environment in 14 different respects, when compared to closed-office staff. These 14 areas included: noise, temperature and air quality.

Karlstad University’s research makes reference to a “distracted and irritated workforce”, and productivity having been hit by companies’ desire to have open-plan environments.

Other issues may include:

  • GIVING THE MANAGEMENT THEIR OWN OFFICES, WHILST EXPECTING THE MAJORITY OF EMPLOYEES TO WORK IN THE OPEN-PLAN OFFICE, ONLY WIDENS THE FEELING OF DETACHMENT BETWEEN BOSSES AND WORKERS
  • WHEN WORKERS TALK AMONGST THEMSELVES IN AN OPEN-PLAN OFFICE, IT IS USUALLY ABOUT NON-WORK MATTERS – RARELY ARE DISCUSSIONS ABOUT HOW TO IMPROVE BUSINESS PROCESSES, OR ANYTHING THAT MIGHT REMOTELY BE DESCRIBED AS ‘BRAINSTORMING’
  • YOU DON’T ENJOY MUCH PRIVACY, AND YOUR COLLEAGUES, AND MAYBE YOUR LINE MANAGER, COULD BE VERY QUICK TO PICK UP ON SOMETHING YOU ARE EITHER NOT DOING AT ALL, OR DOING WRONG. ALTERNATIVELY, YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO EVERY WORD YOUR COLLEAGUE SAYS WHILE THEY TALK ABOUT THEIR NIGHT OUT, OR TRY TO SOLVE THEIR DOMESTIC ISSUES ON THE PHONE
  • IT CAN MAKE THE SPREAD OF GERMS EASIER, THUS INCREASING ABSENCE LEVELS

Conversely, the advantages of open-plan working include:

  • IT CAN HELP TO BRING DOWN BARRIERS, AND DISPEL THE NOTION OF AN OFFICE HIERARCHY
  • IT CAN BE MUCH EASIER TO ASK A COLLEAGUE FOR ASSISTANCE OR ADVICE
  • IT SHOULD MEAN THAT ALL PHONE CALLS GET ANSWERED, AS IF YOU LEAVE YOUR DESK A NEARBY COLLEAGUE SHOULD ANSWER ON YOUR BEHALF
  • IT CAN BE EASIER TO RE-ARRANGE THE OFFICE LAYOUT