5 Myths of Open Office Layouts and Productivity
1. Open offices create a lack of privacy.
Noise is the first complaint many detractors use to argue against the open office. In reality, research shows that most people do their best work with a low-level hum.
In fact, research shows that a “moderate level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the likelihood of innovative products”. The increase in processing difficulty turns out to be an advantage for the abstract processing needed for creativity and experimental thought.
Just look at the popularity of Coffitivity, an app that recreates the ambient noise of a coffee shop, lunchroom, or university bookstore café for workers who prefer to work with headphones. App developers have narrowed in on one of the features that make coffeehouses so popular with workers.
This is why freelancers and writers flock to coffee shops.
Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and other chain shops to take advantage of the human proclivity to focus and concentrate with low music and background noise. Complete silence is distracting for certain types of tasks.
Open offices must retain workers’ personal space. Lowering the cubicle walls really only creates visual privacy, but does not reduce audible access. In fact, people can be more mindful of their volume when they see their coworkers nearby.
Privacy may appear to disappear, but creative production leaps.
2. Open offices are more productive.
Not true. Places designed for the current task are more productive.
Speaking of developers, they have a task that is not as amenable to the open office floor plan. Tasks requiring strict focus do require silence, which is why some tech companies create coding rooms–where talking is forbidden. This is a room where people do not spend all of their time, but can move in or out as their activity requires.
The key is to design for your office’s goals.
Look closely at the duties each department must accomplish each day and outfit your workplace with microenvironments suited to those tasks. A change in seating type or surroundings can reinvigorate creative thought.
Designing workspaces with diversity can make all the difference in your office’s productivity.
3. Open floor plans save space.
Open floor plans are not about reducing infrastructure costs. The misconception remains because some organizations implement it with cost-cutting intentions, sometimes seating two employees at a desk.
They’re doing it wrong. The goal with open offices is to enable communication, not to force it.
The ideal design of an open office layout will incorporate extra rooms or nooks where people can focus on heads-down type of work.
When researchers reduce the open office theory to a desk type: cubicles versus open offices, they often get adverse results and risk losing the effectiveness of their research. In reality, employees should be able to move from one place to another that is more conducive to the task they are working on.
4. Open offices are worse for introverts.
Chances are, your introverts will not speak up immediately when asked for input on the new open office layout. Their concerns often get lost in the shuffle until after the space is built.
However, open offices are not inherently bad for introverts. Proper design can actually improve the work environment.
As Grace Emery, publicist and admitted introvert, mentioned in a recent Fast Company article on ideal workplaces for introverts and extroverts, “I’m not as excited to just get up and strut into someone’s office and say I need to meet with you, so open plan is kind of a good environment for someone who might be less bold.”
Knocking on a manager’s office can be intimidating to an introvert and they’ll generally avoid doing so for any task that is less than urgent. The boss who works alongside his or her employees will have better access to the pulse of his employees. And introverts will communicate more than ever!
5. Open offices create more interruptions.
More interruptions? Only for those rare birds that do not consider their email inbox a nuisance.
The sheer volume of email traffic at work leaves the rest of us spending significant time on the daily task of clearing new messages. Imagine the potential time saved by turning to the person next to you to check on tomorrow’s 10 a.m. meeting agenda instead of crafting an email that doesn’t come across as demanding or impatient.
Tone and context are still the human’s best tools for communicating effectively. People can determine visually when they may be interrupting, and choose a better moment. The reduction in email traffic alone can release people to work freely on their actual productive work.
The appeal of the open office is its adaptability, which makes it ideal for all types of environments. With a designer’s expert help, you can construct the most productive scenario for your own workforce.