One of the biggest office design trends that has swept across continents and countries is the open plan office.

 

Initially a concept implemented by Silicon Valley companies, the idea of the open plan office was quickly jumped on by numerous businesses across a range of industries who were keen to follow the likes of Google by using office design to help promote a collaborative working environment.

 

Research cited by HR Drive notes that a staggering 92% of workplaces surveyed were categorised as open workspaces.

 

But do open plan offices actually encourage employees to interact more and work together?

 

There have certainly been critics of this office design, with many expressing annoyance about the lack of privacy and acoustics. And now a new study by researchers from Harvard seems to have settled the argument once and for all.

 

As Inc. reports, researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban studied two Fortune 500 companies planning to switch to an open plan office. They compared how employees interacted for three weeks before and after the redesign, giving 150 participating members of staff sociometric badges that monitored movement, location, posture and, via infrared and sound sensors, conversations with colleagues. They also reviewed the number of emails and texts sent during the test period.

 

The result? The introduction of an open plan office led to reductions in the number of interactions between co-workers while the number of emails and text messages increased.

 

Discussing the findings, the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog commented: “Overall, face-to-face time decreased by around 70% across the participating employees, on average, with email use increasing by between 22% and 50% (depending on the estimation method used).”

 

Putting this into perspective, Cal Newport explained: “In the 15 days before the office redesign, participants accumulated an average of around 5.8 hours of face-to-face interaction per person per day. After the switch to the open layout, the same participants dropped to around 1.7 hours of face-to-face interaction per day.”

 

So, there we have it: open plan offices actually don’t help boost collaboration. In their conclusion, the researchers stated: “Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM.”

 

There may still be a case for open plan offices, if they fit in with your company culture already. You can’t just jump on the bandwagon and expect everything else to simply fall into place. To create a truly collaborative working environment that works specifically for you and your employees, speak to Kerr.

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