Tag Archive: employees

Yet another article about the failure that is the open plan office:

Why Open Plan Offices Are Bad For Us. Bryan Borzykowski, BBC.com, examines the modern office worker’s nemesis, the open plan office. Borzykowski introduces us to Chris Nagele, a tech executive who adopted an open plan space because he thought it would encourage collaboration among his team members. But Nagele soon discovered that he made a huge mistake. Instead of a free exchange of creative ideas, Nagele found that everyone was distracted, productivity suffered, and his employees were unhappy, as was he.  And he wasn’t alone.

Borzykowski reports:

Professors at the University of Sydney found that nearly 50% of people with a completely open office floorplan, and nearly 60% of people in cubicles with low walls, are dissatisfied with their sound privacy. Only 16% of people in private offices said the same.

Sound privacy means noise.  Your neighbor’s phone call is noise to you, and your call is noise to him or her.  And in an open office, it’s possible to have lots of neighbors. No surprise then that in the U.S., where about 70% of offices are open concept, there is a growing backlash against them.  And there is research that backs up employees’ complaints.  Specifically, “that we’re 15% less productive, we have immense trouble concentrating and we’re twice as likely to get sick in open working spaces.”  That is, the reason employees hate open plan offices isn’t just a loss of status and exposure to a litany of minor nuisances. Rather, “we can’t multitask and small distractions can cause us to lose focus for upwards of 20 minutes.” That is, we can’t do our work.

In the end, the stated motivation for adopting open plan offices–to encourage collaboration–is a lie.  Many companies claim that motivation when the bottom line is that open plan offices are cheaper.  But even if encouraging collaboration really is the motivation, Borzykowski tells us that “we don’t collaborate like we think.”  Instead, he writes:

[I]t’s well documented that we rarely brainstorm brilliant ideas when we’re just shooting the breeze in a crowd. Instead, as many of us know, we’re more likely to hear about the Christmas gift a colleague is buying for a family member, or problems with your deskmate’s spouse.

So, what to do?  The obvious choice is to ditch the open plan office, but that isn’t easy to do after significant funds have been spent on a new space.  When the floor plan cannot be changed, some sort of accommodation should be made, particularly for jobs that require focus, like writing or coding.  Borzykowski reports that some companies “are experimenting with quiet rooms and closed spaces,” while others place sensors around the workspace to track noise, temperature, and population levels, allowing staff to “log on to an app [to] find the quietest spot in the room.”  Or maybe companies should bite the bullet?  According to Chris Nagele, leaving the open plan office behind resulted in his employees being happier and more productive.

Yet another article on how to “design around” the “open office noise problem”

Startup Stock Photos

TechRepublic writes about the “new study from Oxford Economics [that] claims that open office floor plans can hurt employee productivity” in a piece titled, “Here’s how to design the best office for your employees.”  And once again we are compelled to respond as follows: When will this assault on employee productivity and morale end?  Why can’t *they* bring back private work spaces?

It seems clear that nothing will be done until the bean counters can quantify the enormous costs of open plan offices.  No doubt part of the problem is that it’s hard to put a dollar figure on employee distraction, frustration, and decreased morale.  But one thing is clear, the absolute raft of articles on how much employees hate open plan offices indicates that they are a problem that needs to be solved or redesigned or otherwise dealt with.  One day some newly minted management genius will rediscover pre-open plan office design, repackage it slightly, and give it a new name, and after the applause dies down, *they* will follow.

Companies employ gimmicks in lieu of addressing noisy workplaces

Startup Stock Photos

As cubicles and wall-less offices proliferate, companies are adding special rooms, lounges, even gardens where employees can take a pause.

, The Boston Globe, writes about the quiet spaces Tufts Health Plan offers to its employees.  While quiet spaces may seem like the newest perk du jour startups offer to lure talent, there’s another reason for these amenities:

Watertown-based Tufts is among many companies now offering quiet spaces where employees can step away from their desks for a few minutes and recharge. Such spaces are especially welcome in open offices, where workers sit in close quarters and noise carries easily. The garden and the quiet room at Tufts, which opened in recent years, have been popular with a small, enthusiastic, and growing group of employees. “The more people hear about it, the more they’re willing to try it,” says Lydia Greene, Tufts’s chief human resources officer. “Pretty soon we will need a bigger room.”

Yes, the reason for the quiet room and garden is to compensate for the uncomfortably noisy work space Tufts imposes on its employees.  Sadly, the article prints the unsupported assertion that “firms eliminate private offices to foster collaboration,” when it’s not exactly a secret that the business case for open plan offices is simple: They’re cheaper.

When one considers the cost of providing quiet spaces plus the time lost when employees seek out a quiet space in which to decompress, perhaps the new trend will be a return to offices?

Link via @jeaninebotta.

OSHA announces hearing-protection technology contest winners

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Four inventors have been recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration for their innovations in developing technology intended to combat work-related hearing loss.  The winning designs include a custom-fitted earpiece that offered workers protection, wearable sensor technology that detects noise levels, and an interchangeable decorative piece that attaches to silicone earplugs.

Link via @jeaninebotta.

We want walls:

the future of office design – and the demise of open plan.   God willing.

Open floor plans, particularly poorly executed plans that are intended to shove as many bodies into the smallest possible space, hurt employee morale and interfere with work.  Many employees may resent a perceived loss of status as they are removed from offices and given a space for which there is little or no privacy.  But open floor plans do more than hurt employees’ self-esteem.  Dr Matthew Davis, a professor of the psychology of office design at Leeds University Business School, has researched “the poor hygiene and frequent distractions of open-plan offices,” with one report finding that “the loss of productivity [was] so great in an open-plan office that it outweigh[ed] the money saved by putting everyone in the same room.”

So what is business doing in response?  Apparently, “organisations are now seeking flexible, modern offices with private pods where workers can hunker down without interruption, with protocols such as no talking on mobile phones, for instance, and no eating.”  Or perhaps your employer will invest in a “chair with zip-up sides.”

Or CEOs could stop listening to the finance guys when making decisions about workplace design and opt for space that lets their employees do their work.  Just throwing that out there.

Link via @QuietMark.