Recently, Fast Company sat down with Kristy Tillman, who is the head of workspace design over at Slack.
When asked what she thought about open floor plans, Tillman, responded sharply: “My opinion is that they suuuck.” She went on to explain that in order to better serve guests and employees, she has begun the process of making everything a little smaller. Tillman continues, “The desk per square foot smaller, and swatches of open office much smaller. We also have a variety of privacy phone booth options, small quad and double rooms, and one-person rooms. Some of them are bookable, some are not bookable, so people can really drop in and book them.”
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Tillman’s outlook is becoming more and more commonplace. A new workplace acoustic study commissioned by Interface, Inc. determines the root of the global open floor plan antipathy. Many workers feel that open offices actually hinder collaboration, concentration, and productivity, because of all the noise the architectural model engenders. WIthout a space to find some genuine quiet, many employees are having a rough go at staying focused.
“What’s that sound?”
A massive inspection of 1,008 employees in the U.S., 504 employees in the U.K., and 502 employees in Australia outs a noisy environment as a pervasive productivity cancer.
Sixty-two percent of employees surveyed said that minimizing distractions is integral to conducting business. The only problem is 55% of the same pool queried described their workplace as noisy and disruptive, with 69% saying it directly precluded their ability to work efficiently.
What exactly is all the racket composed of? Well according to the respondents, the chief culprit is chit-chat. Seventy-nine percent said that conversations between their employees keep them from focusing, 67% cited phone calls, 62% complained about the sounds of phones ringing, and 54% said they couldn’t stand the pitter patter of footsteps walking around all day. Although a minuscule 5% said that a noisy work environment would cause them to quit their jobs, half of those surveyed said that these factors would absolutely inform their decision to accept a job offer.
What can be done?
Many respondents in the study either, buy headphones or try to work remotely as frequently as possible-the latter being in direct conflict with the central point of an open office. Workers that work in environments with carpeting as opposed to wood, ceramic tile, and concrete flooring, are nearly 10% less likely to describe their office as noisy, which is why 31% of employers opted for carpeting or rugs in an attempt to mitigate these kinds of complaints. Some employers instead installed “quiet spaces,” the most common modus operandi being phone booths.
According to the authors of the new survey, “About half of U.S. (50%) and U.K. (48%) employees feel their company does nothing to mitigate noise in the office, as opposed to only 35% of Australian employees, who report employers providing rooms for phone calls/conversations and headphones at higher rates.”
US employees requested designated areas to make phone calls and conduct business the most out of all the respondents. Forty-one percent said that, in addition to being an impediment to productivity, workplace noise made them irritable and edgy. The survey concludes, “Noise impacts employee satisfaction, with the majority surveyed (69%) stating they would enjoy their job more if there was less noise in the office. With a few changes in the workplace, employers can make measurable improvements on how well their people perform and how fulfilled they are in their work, driving enhanced productivity and well-being.”
Given that open floor plans are designed to encourage employee connectivity, it would be in an employer’s best interest to eliminate the obstacles to this objective.
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