Today, I read an article from Inc. acknowledging the absurdity of the open workspace trend. I have to say I am thrilled to see the beginning of the end of this truly terrible practice.
In the article, the author explains the original intent behind the open workspace was to inspire greater team collaboration. But, as anyone who has ever endured this office space structure knows, it delivers the opposite. In the article, the experts explain:
It doesn’t cause them to interact more socially or more frequently. Instead, the opposite happens. They start using email and messaging with much greater frequency than before. In other words, even if collaboration were a great idea (it’s a questionable notion), open plan offices are the worst possible way to make it happen. Previous studies of open plan offices have shown that they make people less productive, but most of those studies gave lip service to the notion that open plan offices would increase collaboration, thereby offsetting the damage.
As someone who has witnessed this trend first-hand, I agree completely. Open work spaces result in employees wearing headphones or leaving their desks in search of a private, quiet place to work. They also embolden the most talkative employees to regularly interrupt their colleagues, create anxiety for introverts and can make negative attitudes in the office even more contagious.
I’ve never been one to care too much for hierarchy. But, a former colleague also pointed out something about the open work space that I hadn’t thought of – it creates a sense of equality among colleagues that may not be accurate. By this I mean, when supervisors sit at the same desk in the same room as their direct reports, it can lessen their seniority as their direct reports see them more as a team member than a boss. I’ve witnessed this myself. Hierarchies do exist for a reason and having some kind of physical difference in workspaces reinforces titles and lines of delineation that can inspire greater leadership from managers and growth aspirations in direct reports.
I understand it’s much less expensive for businesses to put their employees into a single, crowded room versus cubicles and individual offices. But, the cost to productivity surely offsets any gains in square footage reductions. In fact, the Inc. article references this, explaining how open work spaces force employees to communicate digitally to the point where they might as well work from home – which is a workplace trend that really saves money.
If employees are going to be using email and messaging to communicate with co-workers, they might as well be working from home, which costs the company nothing. In fact, work-from-home actually saves money because then employees can live in areas where housing is more affordable, which means you can pay them a smaller salary than if you force them to live in, say, a high-rent district like Santa Clara, California. So there it is. Companies have spent billions of dollars to create these supposedly-collaborative workplaces and the net effect has been for those same companies to suffer billions of dollars in lost productivity.
Let me know your thoughts. Have you worked in an open work space environment. Did it make your team more or less productive?