A non-stop environment of collaboration may actually make us worse at collaborating.
With 70 percent of workers toiling away in open-plan offices, the age of the hated cubicle is ending. But new research shows we may have gone too far in opening up the workplace. It turns out that sometimes, workers need their space. Studies by San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler and others show that businesses need to take a balanced approach to the workplace with spaces that encourage both collaboration and focused work.
It turns out that sometimes workers need their space. The bottom line is that the drawbacks of open offices are that they’re distracting, noisy and lead to more sick days than other configurations do.
The harshest indictment: Rather than promoting collaboration, open offices are less productive. According to research byNorth Carolina State University, the combined lack of privacy and open office hustle-bustle “contributes to mental workload, poor performance, stress, and fatigue.”
We’ve seen other research showing that it takes an average 23 minutes to regain focus after an interruption. Productivity blog 99U even recommends working half the day alone to cut down on distractions.
Architectural, planning and design firm Gensler’s recently released 2013 U.S. Workplace survey advises businesses to find the golden mean. The study neither advocates for solitary confinement or an open-office free-for-all.
“No one work mode determines the effectiveness of a space,” writes CEO Diane Hoskins. “Instead, workplaces that balance work modes are the key to achieving high-performance and avoiding the pitfalls inherent to many workplaces. One size doesn’t fit all.”
Gensler suggests a mix of environments that promote different activities, including focused work, learning and collaboration. The benefits are that one doesn’t have to come at the expense of another.
According to Gensler’s study:
Workers who can effectively focus are 57 percent more able to collaborate, 88 percent more able to learn, and 42 percent more able to socialize in their workplace. They’re also happier in general.
As the poet said, good fences make good neighbors. Used right, they might make better workers too.