The open-office floor plan has taken US workspaces by storm– but are they right for everyone? Here’s a closer look at when they work and when they don’t.
We’ve seen the agile office or open-office floor plan become extremely popular; they’re frequently considered a solution that promotes collaboration, creativity, and productivity. However, they’ve been around long enough now to have undergone some scrutiny and studies and we’re beginning to understand the times they work and the times they don’t. One study, for example, indicated that many employees find the open layout to be more stressful, noisy, distracting, and detrimental to performance. Another report stated that employees lost almost an hour and a half of productivity due to distractions from working in an open space.
However, rather than declaring that either a cubicle farm or open-office floor plan is superior, it’s better to understand the factors that can influence the success of a particular office layout.
Every company consists of different kinds of jobs and different levels, so it makes sense that an open-office floor plan would not suit all job functions. Research suggests that employees whose responsibilities are more managerial and technical in nature had a negative reaction to an open-office floor plan, whereas clerical staff did not seem to be affected as much. Employees who work in more creative, design-oriented functions may benefit from a free-flow of ideas. However, workers in roles such as coding and quantitative analysis – which require independent work – may prefer quiet and contained spaces.
While workers with more extroverted personalities get energy from interacting with others and being constantly stimulated, introverts are the opposite.
In the book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, author Susan Cain points out that it can be difficult for an introvert to perform well in an open-office floor plan. While workers with more extroverted personalities get energy from interacting with others and being constantly stimulated, introverts are the opposite. Introverts, who make up one-third to one-half of the global workforce depending on sources, often find the constant noise and interaction to be draining. The result is these quieter workers often are less productive and more stressed out from open layouts.
Employment demographics are an interesting inflection point. Baby Boomers are starting to retire, and more Millennials and future generations are entering and preparing for the workforce. It’s understandable that these generations likely have different working styles, and no one office layout is likely to meet the needs of this diverse workforce.
In general, Baby Boomers may prefer more privacy to get their jobs done. Also, many of these individuals are likely to be in managerial positions which require confidentiality. Although a recent study from Oxford Economics suggested that Millennials want peace and quiet to work, these younger workers seem to be better equipped to handle more stimulating environments.
With approximately 70 percent of US offices already being designed with an open-office floor plan, we recognize it may be difficult and costly to implement wide-scale layout changes. Instead, it might be right for your company to adopt a hybrid or flexible approach that includes privacy options for periods when workers need to concentrate.