How Open Plan Offices Strangle Collaboration

Despite the evidence mounting that open plan offices are increasingly bad for employees, their appeal endures in workplaces around the world, not least because many managers feel they facilitate the sharing of thoughts and ideas.  A recent study adds further grist to the mill as to their negative impact however.

The work, from researchers at Karlstad University, Sweden, wanted to test the notion that open plan offices not only save money for the employer, but facilitate greater collaboration between employees.

The authors examined a range of different office types, including open-plan, shared-room and cellular offices, and looked at the association between each type and the job satisfaction, general sense of wellbeing and collaboration levels among workers.

“The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction. This association was mediated by ease of interaction with co-workers and subjective wellbeing, with employees working in small and medium-sized open-plan offices reporting lower levels of both these aspects than employees who work either alone in cellular offices or together with up to two colleagues in shared-room offices,” the author explains.

In other words, the more workers that are crammed into a room, the less happy and productive each worker is.  So whilst there may appear to be short-term financial benefits in terms of the real estate needed to house the workforce, the reduced productivity and engagement levels actually make costs higher in the long-term.  It underlines the importance of taking a more sophisticated view of the workplace rather than as just a cost sink.

Of course, this is just the latest in a long stream of evidence that supports this general finding, so I’m not expecting change to happen any time soon, but hopefully each drip drip will lead to change in the long run.