Sunday, April 16, 2017

Does Open Office Environment Really Work in Business?

Open office environment has been talk of the town these days. If you visit offices of start-ups n Silicon Valley or even in well established companies the leaders are tearing down the walls of cubicles and putting up open desks. According to International Facility Management Association, nearly 70 percent of companies have open office environment.

The open offices take various shapes in different companies. Some have just long table and chairs along it so employees are sitting side by side. In other places they still keep the cubicle walls, but the height is reduced so that employees can see each other without having to get up. In some other offices you will also find open spaces where employees can gather to discuss.

Collaboration is the primary benefit being touted for creating open office environment. The argument is that when employees are sitting in close proximity without any walls they are able to have impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions. This in turn leads to quick resolution or even new ideas. But the question is – does open office environment really work? There have been several studies done recently that make the case that it does not help. On the contrary it hurts employee productivity and even collaboration. According to the study conducted by Science Direct majority of 42,000 participants in their study were dissatisfied with the open offices.

There are number of issues being cited with the open office environment. The list below describes those issues and their implications on employee productivity and business value.
  1. Excessive Noise – This should be obvious to everyone. When there are no walls between cubicles and when everyone is talking it can create significant noise that is hard to manage. This has direct impact on someone’s ability to concentrate to get things done. When the job requires focusing on an idea without any disturbance and interruption noise can hurt employee productivity significantly. Many employees try to block the noise with headphones, but that still helps only in limited fashion.
  2. Lack of Privacy – Again, this is a direct result of not having any barriers. There are times when employees want, and need privacy to take care of personal matter to discuss confidential items in a business transaction. You can always go to a closed room for this but for someone whose job entails many confidential discussions this is simply not feasible.
  3. Poor Health – When everyone is sitting closely it doesn’t take long for germs to migrate from one person to another. Some employees are very sensitive to certain conditions and having an open office environment really impacts their health. According to study done by Ergonomics Sick rates were higher in companies that promoted open offices.
  4. Decline in Productivity – When you are constantly being interrupted it s difficult to get anything done. Even when you are by yourself all the surrounding noise and chatter has negative impact on your ability to get things done efficiently.

Business leaders need to take a second look at this phenomenon and ensure their business is not negatively impacted by open office environment. At a minimum, they should take steps to provide necessary support to those who don’t feel comfortable in this environment. This needs to start with the education of basic concepts such as the one at Rivier University that offers online MBA in the areas of project management, innovation strategy, etc. to develop better understanding of this trend.

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