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

Turns out space and privacy are good for productivity

By Kirk Miller

 
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20 July 2018

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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