Are open-plan offices bad for productivity?

by L&D20 Jun 2016
Open-plan offices have been embraced by businesses everywhere because they make it easier for employees to interact with each other.
Specifically, advocates argue that they enable better teamwork, more social learning and less hierarchy.
However, new global research by Oxford Economics suggests there's a downside.
Indeed, 74% of participants in the survey reported that they worked in open-plan offices, and more than half of the total workers complained about noise.
The researchers also found that millennials were particularly likely to complain about rising decibels, wear headphones to reduce the sound, and leave their desks in search of quiet.
Moreover, 69% of supervisors said that their spaces had been laid out with noise reduction in mind, while 64% had engineered the workplace to reduce noise coming from outside the office. 
“Noise and distraction have a big impact on productivity,” said Edward Cone, deputy director of Thought Leadership and Technology Practice Lead at Oxford Economics.
“These are issues that companies can address – but first they need to acknowledge the problem.”
The research also found that the ability to focus without interruptions is a top priority for employees when it comes to office design, while access to treats like free food is much less important.
It also found that employees are expected to be connected to the office all the time, but only 40% say the devices they use at home integrate seamlessly with their work tools.
The research was based on a global survey of more than 1,200 senior executives and non-manager employees in industries such as healthcare, retail, manufacturing and financial services. It was also conducted in collaboration with Plantronics.
L&D Professional also recently reported on the apparent negatives effects of working in an unclean workplace (such as facing exposure to mold, lead, loud noises, etc) and working in an unstimulating environment.
"There are real things in the workplace that can shape cognitive function: some that you can see or touch, and others you can't. We showed that both matter to cognitive health in adulthood,” said the Norejane Hendrickson Professor of Family and Child Sciences and lead researcher of the study.

Related stories:

How your workplace can harm your brain function 

How to create a workplace where employees yearn to learn


  • by HW 20/06/2016 5:53:34 PM

    Well I never! Distractions are bad for productivity - who would have guessed?

    We guessed, when Open Plan layouts were introduced in the Public Service in Canberra in 1975 - or thereabouts, as I recall - because they were cheaper to build. But that is only half the equation: lost productivity and increased workplace stress make up the other half.

    Certainly there are some kinds of work where face-to-face (or cheek-by-jowl !) contact among team members is a good thing, even essential. But there are also many jobs where it is essential to be able to concentrate on a task demanding thought, and thus freedom from interruption, for significant periods of time. In an Open-plan world, the preconditions for the latter kind of work have been discounted for forty years.