The open office trend has reached a fever pitch, with nearly 70 percent of American workers now residing in them. But is an open office really the best way to go?
A few months back in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova reported that open offices don’t actually do what they were designed to do, which is to facilitate communication and idea flow. She said:
In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices made employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation.
Rats in a Noisy Maze
As an introvert, my experiences with open offices have been difficult. Even a cubicle offers a certain level of privacy. You feel like you have some measure of control over your environment. If you need to make a personal phone call, you can do so without worrying about being overheard. If you need silence to focus on an intensive task, you can get it. In an open office, you are at the total mercy of your co-workers’ presence.
I recall being constantly distracted, and every time I’d get interrupted, I’d have to exert enormous effort to gain back my focus. Sometimes my mind was so busy I couldn’t even remember what I was supposed to be doing. My productivity was at an all-time low: a task that took me an hour or two at home took me a full work day in my open office.
As for communication, I found that when I could get away from my colleagues for two seconds, my interactions with them were more concise and purposeful. Once out of the chaos of the open office environment, I learned how not to waste my co-workers’ time.
For the rest of the post, head over to Intuit's Fast Track blog.