Open offices = not so open people

Open offices = not so open people

Studies reveal the specific impacts that open offices have on daily interaction at the workplace.

Open offices mean interaction, networking and combined spaces that guarantee human interaction, sounds cool for an office, right?

Open-office spaces grew over 3 million square feet from 2015 to 2016 just in the U.S.

Despite some people preferring this method undoubtedly, there are still some mixed results on how these spaces influence human collaboration.

While some studies show that removing spatial boundaries brings people into contact and increases collaboration and collective intelligence, researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban spotted inconsistencies in certain human behaviors.

They found that prior studies of open offices and its impacts on human communication and collaboration had relied on imprecise measures such as self-reported activity logs to quantify interactions before and after a shift to an open office plan, therefor, they had subjects wear devices around their neck that directly measured every face-to-face encounter, plus, they also used email and IM server logs to determine exactly how much the volume of electronic interactions changed, and what they found was notorious.

It is seen that the 52 participants studied spent 72% less time interacting face-to-face after the shift to an open office layout, dropping face-to-face interaction per person per day to a total of 1.7 hours, when the accumulated average was 5.8 hours when offices were closed.

Less face-to-face, more digital communication 

Although removing spatial boundaries—such as walls— seems a logical solution to making individuals feel more physically proximate, which leads to more interaction, as studies suggest, it is not happening that way, but, digital communication is growing.

Data from the Bernstein and Turban investigation shows that after the redesign, participants sent 56% more emails (and were cc’d 41% more times), and the number of IM messages sent increased by 67%, however, it made employees less effective.

One of the most interesting findings was the suggestion that when you remove any semblance of structure to human interaction, people get overloaded and withdrawal into private, electronic cocoons.

Productivity ok, though?

Office walls started to come down in the mid 90´s, as many workplaces started adopting inclusive, open, and energized methods aiming to attract creative young talent.

Now, as these young, creative generations establish themselves inside the workforce, the real effects of co-working and open offices in human interaction is a mixed result.

Data from BBC capital stated that during 2015 and 2016, 70% of the US offices opened themselves up to the concept of open offices, nevertheless, 15% of those workplaces became less productive.

As for spending, open offices can also represent a rise to a 172,000 dollar non-inconsiderable spending, a considerable amount for medium and large companies.

Read here the whole article on the direction co-working and open offices are taking.


About the Author:

Fernando Lincona
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