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Workers Hate Open Floor Plans


Open-plan offices always look so cool when you see them in pictures, like maybe the ball pit and cotton candy machine are just around the corner. (And, of course, if you work at Google, they very well might be.) But all is not bliss in the land of sunlight and easy collaboration.

open office 

(Photo Credit: p_c_w/Flickr)

A recent study from the University of Sydney found that open offices have the highest levels of worker dissatisfaction.

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From the abstract:

“Open-plan office layout is commonly assumed to facilitate communication and interaction between co-workers, promoting workplace satisfaction and team-work effectiveness. On the other hand, open-plan layouts are widely acknowledged to be more disruptive due to uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy.”

Unsurprisingly, participants gave enclosed private offices has much higher assessments for Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). The deciding factors were privacy, noise, and “proxemics” — a term coined by researcher Edward Hall in 1960s, and which means the impact of the use of space on interpersonal relationships. (In other words, the study of how sharing a tiny cubicle with two coworkers makes you realize that they are both very bad people.)

Of course, most people reading this will have very little say over whether they work in an open-plan office or not. That decision was likely made long before you ever filled out your HR paperwork.

Still, if you find yourself in an office environment that isn’t a good fit with your own work style, there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself and to boost your productivity, including:

1. Find a private space.

Whenever possible, schedule a few hours of solitary working time, booking a conference room if possible. For folks who find working out in the open exhausting, a little time in a quiet space can reboot their systems.

2. Use flextime, if you have it.

Not every company offers the ability to work from home on occasion, but if you can convince the boss to let you mix up your schedule a bit, you might get yourself some a break.

3. Three words: Noise. Cancelling. Headphones.

Be like the ostrich, but with your ears: if you can’t hear people chatter, the distraction doesn’t exist.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you love or hate open floor plans? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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