Open-plan offices make workers less collaborative, Harvard study finds

Open plan offices 2018

Foyer of the Lyons Studio. Commissioned Professional Photography: (Peter Bennets , 2010)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content


Open-plan offices allow employees to see and hear their colleagues all day long, so you might think all this transparency would encourage them to work more collaboratively.

But according to new Harvard research, this type of office environment actually has the opposite effect: it reduces the amount of time people spend talking face-to-face and instead drives them to interact by text or email.

Shh..keep your voice down

Previous studies showed that open-plan layouts reduce productivity, partly because people tend to feel uncomfortable holding serious business conversations within earshot of large numbers of colleagues.

But the rationale behind the open-plan design was that, as well as reducing spending on office space, any drop in output would be offset by increased levels of teamwork.

However, in their study, Ethan S. Bernstein, of Harvard Business School and Stephen Turban, of Harvard University found that when two Fortune 500 companies changed their office layouts from cubicles to open-plan desks, face-to-face interactions among employees dropped by about 70%.

Employees became more reluctant to give negative feedback or address sensitive issues in front of colleagues, which drove them to find more private ways to interact. Instead of talking to each other in person, the study participants turned to their phones and computers.

To build a picture of interactions both before and after the boundaries were removed, the study participants wore a device, known as a sociometric badge, which recorded their conversations with colleagues and information about their posture, location and movements.

Study participants wore a device to track their conversations and movements.

Image: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

The researchers also tracked the number of instant messages and emails.

After the redesign of their offices, the participants sent 56% more emails to each other, received 20% more emails, and were cc’d on 41% more emails.

Their use of instant messages increased by 67%.

In summary, Bernstein and Turban wrote: “While it is possible to bring chemical substances together under specific conditions of temperature and pressure to form the desired compound, more factors seem to be at work in achieving a similar effect with humans.

“Until we understand those factors, we may be surprised to find a reduction in face-to-face collaboration at work even as we architect transparent, open spaces intended to increase it.”

Future workplaces

The way we work is changing rapidly, and improved communications and greater connectivity mean some companies choose to shun the open-plan layout altogether.

The number of people working from home and in public spaces such as cafes and libraries is increasing.

As the chart shows, over 5% of Americans are working from home, and this number is forecast to increase in the coming years – albeit from a low base.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

UN underscores the need to celebrate indigenous peoples, not confine them

Can elections in Italy and Germany derail Eurozone?

“A divided Europe is not in China’s interests”, Ambassador Zhang of the Chinese Mission to EU welcomes Brussels

Tools of asset development: Renewable Energy Projects case

More taxpayers’ money for the banks

3 lessons from India in creating equal access to vaccines

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “Employment contracts today are a reducing share of the workforce”, scientists worry in Davos that the 4th industrial revolution threatens employment globally

Entrepreneurship’s key to success showcased by a serial young entrepreneur

India m2m + iot Forum Hosts Successful 4th Editions of India Smart Cities Forum and India Smart Villages Forum

Gender equality: an issue much talked about but less acted upon

Industrial price dive may lead to point of no return

Inaction on obesity stands in the way of sustainable development

How fungi could save the world

The EU will always have a stable partner in Montenegro, says President Đukanović

Syria: Civilians bear brunt of unilateral sanctions, exacerbating ‘unparalleled suffering, destruction,’ says UN expert

The secret to ending war? It’s too easy: more women in peace negotiations

This is what a smart city should do for its people

France pushes UK to stay and Germany to pay

UN Security Council hails ‘courage’ of Afghan voters

GSMA outlines new developments for Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2018

Why European manufacturing SMEs in the South face fatal dangers

Recognizing, protecting and empowering youth rights in Europe and the world

The mother of all fights about inflation, growth and banks

What you need to know about the Sustainable Development Impact Summit

EU regional differences betray an unjust arrangement

The Swiss will pay dearly for voting out fellow Europeans

UN launches plan to promote peace, inclusive growth in Africa’s Sahel

The IMF overstates the risks for Eurozone and downgrades the threats for the US economy

Here’s why the tech sector could be the next target for Chinese investment in Africa

UN chief calls for ‘immediate end’ to escalation of fighting in southwestern Syria, as thousands are displaced

Dreaming of China

Turkey to let EU alone struggle with the migrant crisis while enhancing its economic ties with Russia instead?

Commission considers anti-dumping duty on Chinese solar glass imports

‘Historic moment’ for people on the move, as UN agrees first-ever Global Compact on migration

EU Commission expects consumer spending to unlock growth

Why Indian students are going abroad to become Doctors?

GSMA Mobile 360 Series – MENA in Dubai, in Association with The European Sting

COP21 Breaking News_09 December: List of Recent Climate Funding Announcements

EU Summit consumed by the banks

“CETA is a game changer for major trade agreements”. The Sting reports live from EBS 2015

To realise the full potential of AI, we must regulate it differently

European Youth Forum welcomes adoption of Sustainable Development Goals and calls on European countries to not ignore them!

Global immunization is having its annual check-up. What can we learn?

MWC 2016 LIVE: Qualcomm looks to pick up Hamilton’s winning ways

Assembly of European Regions @ European Business Summit 2014: The European regions on the path to recovery

‘Much more’ can be done to raise awareness about the plight of persons with albinism: UN chief

Intel, Almunia and 1 billion euros for unfair potatoes

EU Parliament: A catastrophic crisis management by European leaders

Russia and the West to partition Ukraine?

Canada leading the way on women’s inclusion and empowerment, says OECD

Juncker and Tusk killed Greece on 07 July 2015 to meet the Commission’s summer vacation plan? #Grexit #Greferendum #Graccident

The DNA of the future retail CEO

Mandela, ‘true symbol of human greatness’, celebrated on centenary of his birth

ECB again to subsidize euro area banks with more than one trillion euro

How the United States can win back its manufacturing mojo

4 reasons cities should embrace Universal Basic Income

End of plastic water bottles at European Parliament

A Sting Exclusive: “Digital and mobile technologies are helping to achieve an economic success in Spain”, the Spanish Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Information Society Víctor Calvo-Sotelo reveals to the Sting at Mobile World Congress 2015

Eurozone needs more than some decimals of growth

EU Directive makes haircut on uncovered deposits a standard in bank bail-ins

More Stings?

Comments

  1. Did you know the study engaged with less than 50% of the two organizations it analyzed? And if you dig into the % increase of emails, it only comes to 1.2 more emails per person sent in a three-week time span. I think it is worthwhile to dig into the research a bit more, and that the real solution of open office vs. “not” is to not be so binary in design. More information on dissecting the Harvard study here: https://workdesign.com/2018/08/a-workplace-strategists-response-to-the-harvard-research-on-open-plans/

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s