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Time to Ditch Open Plan Offices?


Are you literally rubbing shoulders with your coworkers, and if you are, do you really, really hate it? If so, you won’t be surprised to learn that you’re part of an overwhelming majority that don’t like the arrangement. What’s more, open-plan set ups have now been found to be bad for you, according to world-wide research conducted by Ipsos and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase. Over 10,000 workers from across 14 countries were surveyed to ascertain their views on the impact of working in an open-plan arrangement; below are highlights from the survey.

Key findings:

"… too much interaction and not enough privacy has reached crisis proportions, taking a heavy toll on workers’ creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing.” Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase UK and Ireland,

  •          85% of workers don’t  like the open-plan arrangement
  •          95% of workers want more private space, but only two in five feel able to this privacy
  •          The least engaged employees are the least satisfied (69 percent) with their work environment and vice-versa (31 percent), showing a strong link between satisfaction levels and work environment
  •          The most satisfied employees say their work environment allows them to concentrate at work without being interrupted, and choose where they wish to work in the office.
  •          Nearly a third (31 percent) of those surveyed have to leave the office in order to finish their work
  •          Workers are losing nearly an hour-and-a-half  (86 minutes) a day as a result of distractions
  •          Workers are stressed and unproductive as a result of working in open-plan set ups
  •          Employees find it difficult to think creatively and work constructively in the confines of the open-plan office

“The Privacy Crisis: Taking its toll on Employee Engagement”

In the eponymous report, the authors describe in some detail the significance of privacy to workplace productivity and employee wellbeing, along with possible solutions:

  •          Privacy is a basic human need – it’s important to provide for it within the office
  •          Privacy and employee engagement are positively correlated
  •          Achieving the right balance between privacy and collaboration is crucial
  •          Employers should seek to create an “ecosystem” of different spaces so workers can obtain the level of privacy they            need

Open plan environments: the health issues

Productivity and privacy notwithstanding, the impact of the open-plan arrangement on health cannot be ignored. A 2013 study conducted by the University of Arizona found that such offices are, literally, “germ hotspots”, thanks to workers coming into the office sick. Before you can say “bless you,” commonly touched areas such as doorknobs and lift buttons will have been infected with their virus.  Another study, conducted by the insurer Canada Life, found that workers in open-plan offices took significantly more sick-days than those who worked from home.

Given the move over the last decade or so to more collaborative, open-plan work arrangements, these findings are timely. Not only does working in very close proximity to coworkers affect concentration and productivity, but it also affects health. So is it time to ditch the open-plan arrangement in favour of a more accommodating “ecosystem”; one that allows us to work without being driven to distraction and which enables us to complete our work?

Do you have privacy or health concerns about your work environment? Let us know!

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