Do open plan offices really increase productivity?
Open plan offices have been promoted for years, saying it increases collaboration and job satisfaction as well as removing the perceived hierarchies within an organisation. But an interesting article has surfaced about open plan offices actually increasing sick leave, decreasing productivity, decreasing motivation, creating more problems between team members due to noise and distractions.
How do you organise your office? Do you prefer to work in an open plan environment or have some segregation.
I like this question Wendy, thanks for posting it. Having worked in both isolated and open office set ups I have been able to observe the differences and the strengths and weaknesses of both set ups to a small extent. Like most personnel related business topics there are so many dependencies on the type of company and type of business conducted. It works for some but not so much for others. In reference to open plan offices removing the perceived hierarchies in an organisation, this needs to be explained in more detail. It doesn’t remove the sense of hierarchy per se it more eliminates the faction between managers/supervisors and their subordinates as well as creating a better understanding and connectivity for leaders to their team and greater accessibility from team members to the leader/mentor. Take the latest CEO of the National Australia Bank Cameron Clyne, giving up the traditional 35th story CEO’s office to a 3rd story at another location to sit amongst the domestic operations executives to be closer to the front line of the business.
If the notion of reconnecting with the needs of the customer is considered in this instance, consideration of the work duties will assist in determining the affectivity of an open office plan. While the above example at the NAB might not be moving from an isolated CEO’s office to an open plan set up it does show that moving closer to your front line or working amongst the team shows a more relevant sense of customer needs and an opportunity for influential leadership. From the article that Wendy referenced in her question, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University study concluded that irritating noise came from ringing phones, conversations and machines. Headsets, compartmentalising positions that require autonomous duties and a machine room (assuming this relates to printers, photocopiers etc.). It is easy to come up with problems but these studies should identify a problem and then pursue outcomes or problem reduction plans, after all these articles often come from researchers not political parties trying to persuade a point of view.
We enhance technology by developing user friendly interface, so this in collaboration with the open plan office concept can be tailored to the requirements of the customer, the employee. Find an acoustician or better yet a student studying acoustics and sound design and invite them to utilise your workplace for a study. Have them identify the acoustics of the office and identify cost effective ways the office can be modified to absorb the spoken voice in individual cubicles and isolated in team/conference rooms. This reduces the disruption of voice pollution while maintaining the sense of team environment, connectivity and lower set up costs. Many of the researchers against the open plan office case talk about the poor consideration of office set up.
Open plan offices are fine and have many positive attributes. Do they need more planning and consideration, yes. Creative business administration is on the rise and this topic can be tackled with the right mix of ingredients of research, planning and design.