When it comes to facilitating communication between employees and fostering a culture of transparency and camaraderie, nothing beats an open office layout—or so modern startup wisdom would have it.
But in a piece in the New Yorker, contributor Maria Konnikova assembled various reports, studies and anecdotes about the open office concept to find that the whole experiment may be predicated on a flawed premise; in short, the advantages of an open office may be bunk.
Konnikova cites a study from Denmark which found that employees who share an office take more sick leave than those who don't. Other reports suggest that the noise and distractions in an open office lead to employees who are stressed out and less capable of focusing on the task at hand. Employees are also less likely to make ergonomic adjustments to their workspaces when they're out in the open, leading to increased physical strain.
To curb the protest that new methods of organization may be burdensome to an aging, intractable workforce of people who are set in their ways, Konnikova paid particular attention to research on employees born after 1982. The findings from the Finnish study revealed that young workers were equally as distracted by open office noise. The young people, however, favoured an open office because of the perceived friendships they could carry on with their co-workers.
As an employer, which do you value more: the friendlier, more collaborative environment that an open office layout purports to offer, or the hard-science-backed old school layout of fences and barricades, which allow employees to focus?
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