Since the 1960’s, businesses around the world have been utilizing the “Office of the Future”, that is to say, an open office design. With little to no partitions between employees, large open spaces, and usually incorporating rotating seating arrangements, the open office has been a hallmark of forward thinking industries and companies.
You’ve likely seen tech offices like Google or Yahoo, modern workspaces supposed to allow for easy collaboration and a relaxed environment, but this may not be the reality of the open office. Modern research shows we may have it all wrong when it comes to the open office, and with over 70% of US companies having already adopted it, the question becomes, how do we fix it?
The open office was created with the best intentions. Allowing quick collaboration between employees, democratizing the workplace, and ditching the all too depressing cubicle life. While the idea has its heart in the right place, execution in the workplace has not produced the intended results. While employees may initially feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the open office ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poor performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. What was once thought to have a positive effect is actually decreasing employee happiness and severely affecting their productivity? Worse, the open-office concept also impacts the physical health of the employee. A Swedish study found that open office workers were twice as likely to take sick days as traditional office workers, likely due to the spread of germs and increased environmental stress of working in an open space.
One of the biggest issues with the open office is lack of privacy. Everyone needs space to think, to take calls, or to recharge. With the open office, there is no escape the loud, often distracting noise of all of your co-workers going about their day. The surrounding volume alone leads many workers to lose focus and can have adverse effects on mental health and performance. “The pendulum has swung too far,” said Christine Congdon of Steelcase, a Michigan-based company that designs corporate interiors. “People have to have places to rejuvenate and absorb and process information” in order to be productive at work, she said.
So how do we fix this problem? Should everyone go back to the monotony of cubicle life? With modern technology already changing the way we do business, maybe the solution lies in using new tech to change the workplace. For instance, companies could join a popular new trend, allowing employees to work from home.
Working from home has been proven to boost productivity, with employees working more hours, taking fewer breaks, requesting less sick leave. On top of that, there are fewer interruptions when employees work remotely. Multiple studies have proven remote workers to be more productive, happier, and stay at their job longer than those working in an office. Modern meeting tools allow employees to stay in touch just as well as in the open office, and with the added bonus of privacy and quiet. You can control your space when you work remotely, not leave it up to the many co-workers that would be surrounding you in the open office.
There is no reason that companies can’t evolve with the times and do away with that all too distracting open office. It may look cool, may seem inviting, but when productivity falters and employees suffer, maybe it is time to rethink the current trend and move towards the future. Remote teams are here to stay, and even companies sold into the open office arrangement are taking note. Many top tech companies are starting to allow employees to work from home a few days a week, allowing workers a chance to recharge and enjoy their home office.
Every company should be taking a look at their current office arrangement and seriously consider making the change to start remote teams. You won’t only save money on overhead cost, you’ll be improving your employee’s lives. They will be healthier, more productive, and stick with your company longer than in the traditional office setting, a win-win situation for both parties.