We can all agree that open plan offices are aesthetically pleasing, particularly when your potential clients are able to see everyone working together in a nice environment. What if we told you however, that open plan offices can have a detrimental effect on some businesses – with employees not performing as well compared to those who work in traditional offices?

We’ve teamed up with United Carlton, experts in print management software, to investigate the facts and statistics surrounding this issue and how businesses can adapt their offices to promote better productivity and happiness in the workplace.

Job satisfaction

Businesses originally implemented open plan offices to help save money; fewer walls means cheaper material costs after all. These open spaces also meant that employees were likely to use the same equipment – in traditional offices, each cubicle would often have its own fax machine, printer and other types of office equipment. Open plan offices encourage workers to share equipment and use it when they need to, which again helps businesses to save money.

Now, open plan offices are said to enhance and encourage creativity – with people being able to easily exchange and share ideas that will benefit the business. Socialisation is also often mentioned as a benefit; many believe that by encouraging workers to have conversations with each other, the workplace becomes a happier place – but this is far from the reality.

Research conducted by Karlstad University in Sweden showed that employees working in open plan office spaces demonstrate lower levels of happiness and lower job satisfaction compared to those working in conventional offices. Anyone researching into open plan office spaces would surely think that they are great spaces for encouraging happiness and creativity – so what is the reason for this?

The downside of open plan offices – why they put workers at a disadvantage

Although it can be nice to talk to your colleagues any time you like, this can be a significant distraction for both the person you’re talking to and yourself. We must keep in mind that we are all different, we all have our own styles of working and becoming distracted by others nearby can often lead us away from the task that we were thinking about, causing us to lose focus.

Open plan offices have become increasingly popular with start-ups and young businesses – they seem laid back and modern after all. However, one of the main disadvantages of open-plan offices is that we have no control over the environment around us and we can become irritated by constant distractions. Some offices also allow pets, such as an ‘office dog’ or cat, which can further add to the distractions.

Topping the list of the most annoying things that can pop up for open plan office workers is impromptu meetings and their frequency. Unexpected meetings can mess up an entire day’s schedule, which can then cause workers to fall behind with their workload. This causes further disruption to the work day that they had planned out and adds extra, unneeded interference.

One very common feature of open plan offices is music being played through a radio or speaker. This can be a huge distraction for employees, particularly when they are trying to focus on a specific task. Not everyone has the same taste in music and we all have our preferences, so this can be an issue when the office has a set playlist or a request system. Offices have been tackling this problem however, by ensuring that the music being played actually functions as background music and is not being loudly played across the entire office space – this way it won’t affect workers productivity levels.

As open plan offices offer very little when it comes to privacy, workers can often feel as though they are being monitored, which can lead to them taking less risks – removing the aspect of innovation and the generation of ideas. Many people have admitted that they would not feel comfortable doing certain things in front of their work colleagues, particularly those working in large offices where they might not be familiar with everyone. However, they would be likely to feel more comfortable in their own private space where they have the ability to be creative. Enabling this could improve businesses and help employees to advance within their roles, making better decisions and ensuring better results.

What do the experts say?

Tompkins, an architectural firm, has reportedly said that businesses that choose to create open space offices always start out enthusiastic, but after a few months “a good 50 percent” change their mind and call back to arrange more private office spaces.

Research conducted on an international scale by IPSOS and the Workforce Futures Team of Steelcase indicated that 85% of people find it difficult to concentrate at work and are dissatisfied with their working conditions. The same study found that 95% of people said that it was important for them to have a private space to work in and this would help them to determine a better workplace – just 41% of these respondents said that this was something that they currently had access to, with open plan offices making it difficult.

31% of people said that in order to get the required amount of work done, they had to leave the office. These results clearly demonstrate that something is wrong – this could cause a number of issues related to stress and the work-life balance. 

A similar study of more than 10,000 workers found that office workers lose 86 minutes of their day as a result of distractions in the workplace which cause them to lose motivation and become stressed about completing tasks in time. Many feel as though they are limited creatively and are unable to think constructively as a result of their working environment.

The verdict

It’s important for businesses to get the work-life balance right, as a good work and social balance encourages the productivity and overall happiness of your staff members. As it has been shown, the layout of your office space can have a significant effect on workers, which could in turn affect your clients. In 2016 and 2017, 46% of the 25.7 million days off from work were caused by depression, anxiety and stress, which demonstrates that these are real and important issues within the workplace.

Sources:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/open-plan-offices-bad-for-workers-c0vqwdfqp

https://www.archdaily.com/884192/why-open-plan-offices-dont-work-and-some-alternatives-that-do

https://www.thecut.com/2016/09/more-evidence-that-open-offices-make-people-less-social.html

https://www.theguardian.com/money/work-blog/2014/sep/29/open-plan-office-health-productivity

https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/privacy-crisis/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/03/05/open-offices-seem-great-until-you-work-one/F2Zy3BqCfbMTm4Mn6gVBzH/story.html

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/index.htm