How open offices prohibit productivity and social interaction

More and more studies are seeking to debunk the idea that open office plans fortify productive employee cohabitation. Here they are.

Lately, there’s been some debate about the productive efficiency of open offices. Considering how in vogue they are at the moment, it can be assumed that the pros are winning– International Facility Management Association, corroborates, citing 68%  of coworkers saying they currently or previously worked in an open office.

Briefly, the consensus that favors them over traditional cubical style offices are composed of these principal points: they’re cost-effective, they make employees more flexible and they’re ideal for creatives wishing to network with each other.

Has the trend been around long enough to properly examine these claims?

Are open offices actually better for employee interaction?

The points that attempt to justify the popularity of open architecture are all fine ones, but more and more studies are seeking to debunk the idea that they fortify productive employee cohabitation.

A 2018 study conducted by Harvard Business School reports that open offices actually reduce coworker interaction by 70% and surge email and messaging interaction by 50%. The relaxed structure makes workers feel more comfortable tuning their teammates out, seeing them pop in headphones with greater frequency, socially withdraw and resort to Slack as often as they can.

Fast Company recently published a report that repudiates all social benefits of the growing trend. The author, Art Markman believes them to be aesthetically predisposed to  inspire “harsh judgment.” From the time you leave, to what you eat for lunch and every idiosyncratic behavior that occupies the spaces in between, your coworkers get an intimate view. Moreover, noting this disparaging surveillance makes the employees that fall victim to it more likely to engage in “fake work.” i.e staying an hour longer to belie the impression of diligence.

Shal Khazancho, professor of management at RIT’s Saunders College of business adds: “When you’re always sitting in that low-privacy environment,” Khazanchi explained, “your guard is always up and it depletes cognitive resources because you’re always trying to manage impressions. That puts you in a very self-oriented way; your focus becomes self as opposed to others and that is important for relationships or close interpersonal ties.”

According to researchers from the University of Sydney, “The benefits of being close to co-workers in open-plan offices were offset by factors such as increased noise and less privacy.”

A report published by Basex, claims the aggravated cost of work interruptions is roughly $588 billion annually in the U.S. Open architecture implores we withdraw socially, shy away from our coworkers and engage in activities that aren’t super conducive to the tasks at hand. The Information Overload Research Group pegs digital noise distraction to cost US firm’s about 1 trillion dollars a year. In addition to the decrease in productivity, the general distractions that accompany open offices also induce higher absentee rates.

So with a step back, we survey the outlay. Do open offices make way for a more productive America? Or is it a flash in the plan, waste of resources?

CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.