Open-plan offices affect employees' ability to concentrate, new study finds
Workers who spend a lot of time on tasks requiring focus find them difficult to complete when too close to colleagues
Hell is other people – especially when it comes to getting the job done. Open plan offices – once hailed as free-flowing highways of egalitarianism and creativity – are destroying workers’ ability to concentrate, according to a major new study.
Researchers in the United States found that “focus” tasks that require a little bit of peace and quiet to achieve are more difficult to accomplish when in too close proximity to colleagues.
Nearly nine out of ten of those toiling away in the global knowledge economy said that duties needing deep concentration such as programming, reading or writing complex material were critical to their job, accounting for 55 per cent of all time at work – up by 14 per cent since 2007.
The findings could have a far reaching impact on the future look of the work place, it is claimed.
Responses by 2,000 workers in the United States gathered by international design company Gensler found that the challenges posed by the tearing down of partition walls since the 1960s have “increased exponentially” as distracted staff battle to cope with interruptions by colleagues or the sight, sound and even smell generated by co-workers.
One in four considered their current work environment to be less than ideal compared to more than half of those in private offices, the research found.
“I don’t think it would be going too far out on a limb to say we are at the beginning of a new era in workplace design,” said executive director Diane Hoskins.
“Not only is the focus mode not functioning optimally in most office environments, we found statistical evidence that the effectiveness of collaboration, learning and socialising suffers if the ability to focus is diminished,” she added.
In other words employees not given the time and space to concentrate on their own could not work effectively with other people.
The report concluded: “A frustrated person is highly unlikely to spin his chair around and happily collaborate or socialise; a frustrated mind is unlikely to learn; a frustrated employee is unlikely to be engaged or productive.”
The study found that with email replacing the phone or face-to-face chat even socialisation and collaboration tasks had become solitary screen-based “focus” activities.
Many workers now simply choose to don headphones to shut out the external world creating “virtual walls” between colleagues.
But the return of the gold fish bowl is not necessarily imminent.
Last year Facebook said it was adopting a non-hierarchical approach to its vast new HQ at the former Sun Microsystems California campus where it will house 2,800 engineers in a Frank Gehry-designed warehouse complete with rooftop garden.
The BBC was widely lampooned for the “thought wheels” at its new site at MediaCity in Salford whilst “breakout spaces” for impromptu meetings which don’t disturb others are now becoming commonplace. Other employers have experimented with “pink noise” which pumps chatter-masking background noise into the environment.
The study also found increasing number s of distractions beyond chatting at the coffee machine. Smartphones, Twitter and the internet can waylay workers for hours whilst longer days and less office space as employers cut costs to cope with the economic down turn also impact on feelings of well-being.
The open plan office was the brain child of German post-war designers breaking the link with traditional factory-style arrangements of desks all facing the same way towards a management safely ensconced behind their own cordon sanitaire of oak panelled offices.
But whilst the new non-hierarchical configuration of desks was found to be cheaper and efficient in breaking down organisational silos, there has been a growing backlash. A recent study by the Danish Ministry of Employment found that workers in open plan offices take 62 per cent more sick days than those who have their own room.
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Tories sack candidate who said she would never support 'the Jew' Ed Miliband
Bali Nine executions: Indonesia confirms killings of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will go ahead
The four utterly contradictory polls that tell the story of this election and why it is pointless trying to predict the outcome
General Election 2015: Prospect of Labour-SNP coalition makes one in four voters less likely to support Ed Miliband, says survey
Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...
£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...