Harvard Study Says That Open-Plan Offices Are a Big, Fat Failure

Turns out space and privacy are good for productivity

July 20, 2018 9:00 am

As my editorial title has increased over the last two decades, my workspace has perversely shrunk and my privacy vanished entirely. Blame companies who espouse the “open” workspace theory: i.e., that everyone will be more interactive and creative with fewer doors and walls between them.

Turns out those open-minded companies are wrong.

According to a new study by two Harvard Business School researchers published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Bface-to-face collaboration significantly decreases (by about 70%) in open office spaces. The field studies here examined corporate HQs transitioning to more open architecture, utilizing electronic badges and microphones to monitor employee interactions — as to which HR department would agree to that, we don’t know.

As the researchers noted: “Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

As Fast Company points out, this buttresses early research that showed the so-called increased personal interaction of open-plan offices doesn’t actually offset its disadvantages (like noise and privacy loss).

Our suggestion? Get a private office on wheels and invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones.

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