Research Shows Disadvantages to Open Plan Office

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Today around 70% of offices have an open floor plan. But are they really all they are cracked up to be?

According to a study of over 40,000 workers in 300 different office buildings, the answer to that question is no.  A number of Apple employees refused to move from their old offices to their new $5 billion dollar open plan office. And the Times recently published an article, “Workers Sound Off About Problems in Open-Plan Offices”, highlighting some of the key disadvantages to working in an open plan office.

What does the research show?  Here we tell you why you may want to reconsider an open plan for your next office.

1.  The benefits of collaboration are outweighed by the disadvantages of excess noise

The more people you have in a space, the noisier it gets. In an open plan office, there are conversations happening all around you – phones ringing, jokes being made, a cup of tea being offered (again). One study has found that overhearing snippets of conversation is more annoying and distracts us more easily than meaningless background noise.

Ease of collaboration is a major benefit in open office layouts, but when you can barely hear the person on the other end of the line during important business calls, you have to ask if it is worth it.

2. Everything is a distraction

Everyone in an open plan office is bombarded with stimuli on all sides. Not to mention visual noise is a major problem with open layouts.

A study done in 2005 found that the more effective you are at screening out distractions, the more effectively you work in an open office. However, the more you multitask, the harder it becomes to do this.  And who doesn’t multitask?

3. Lack of security creates unease

In an open office, people are walking by your desk all the time. Whether they are colleagues, suppliers and customers, delivery workers or cleaning staff.

You don’t always know them so there is no way to be absolutely certain that your belongings will be safe. And if a phone, wallet or anything else ever goes missing, you will have your suspicions about possible culprits, and other staff will have their own suspicions.

4. Privacy is essential to job satisfaction, but impossible to come by

One in-depth study by IPSOS and Steelcase found that privacy is important to 95% of workers, while another found that having some degree of privacy increases job satisfaction and performance.

Yet privacy is exactly what you don’t have in an open plan office.

This lack of privacy not only decreases job satisfaction and performance, it can harm the supposed easy collaboration that open office layouts engender. Some people are shy about public speaking, and others don’t like asking questions or pitching ideas for fear of being laughed at, so they stay quiet instead.

5. One person's illness can infect the whole office

While there may be partitions or cubicles between workers, an open office layout means there are no walls. That means everyone is breathing the same air.

And a simple illness like the common cold can take out most of your staff at once, or be passed around the office for months.

A Danish study of 2000 workers found that if there are more than 6 people in an open office, they take as much as 62% more sick days than those in closed offices. 

6. Open offices increase stress and affect long term health

One study found that just three hours of noise increased the participants level of stress hormones. Over time, this can lead to heart conditions, high blood pressure, insomnia and a weakened immune system.  Maybe you aren’t at this stage yet (we hope)… but imagine how you may feel 10 years from now.

The same study also discovered that people make less physical adjustments in noisy environments. This means they may suffer from a stiff neck and back on a regular basis, or develop bad posture over time.

What can you do now if you are already in an open plan office? Ensure employees have the ability to work from home, or flexi-hours.  Flexible working will not only be seen as a perk, but it will lead to greater productivity.  Learn more about how to use technology for seamless flexible working here or give VTSL a call today on 020 7078 3200.


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