Why The Open Office Concept Died

Why The Open Office Concept Died

Open offices were an invention of the 1990s – an attempt by businesses to replace the ubiquitous cubicle with something a little more worker-centric.

In the beginning, the press celebrated these offices, with practically all major business magazines touting their virtues. But over time, it’s become clear that open office arrangements are no more a solution to workspace woes than the dehumanising cubicle. In some ways, they might actually be worse.

Why is this? Let’s take a look.

Open Offices Create Annoying Distractions

When people are at work, they need to be able to focus. Ideally, office environments should be conducive to “flow” – a unique brain state in which an individual works at a high level, blocking out all extraneous information and concentrating on the task in front of them. But when people are talking to each other across an open office, slurping on coffee, and munching on bags of chips, it can be a little distracting. As an employee, you’ve got a couple of options: either try to ignore the noise or block it out by listening to something through headphones. Most workers would prefer to do neither.

Open Offices Cause Higher Absenteeism

Research reported in the New Yorker suggests that interior office design could affect the number of sick days that a person takes. The findings indicated that workers who have to toil in open office environments take 62 percent more days off work due to illness than those who don’t.

Was it all down to the open plan design? Possibly. Higher levels of stress and surveillance might make the prospect of going into work less appealing.

Open Offices Destroy Trust

Open offices were sold as places where employees would be free to collaborate with each other whenever they wanted. But the majority of businesses implementing open offices do not need for employees to speak to each other regularly.

Workers aren’t stupid. Most of them know that the real reason for open offices is so that paranoid managers can keep an eye on what they’re doing all day long. Not only is this level of surveillance unpleasant, but it destroys trust and makes employees feel as if they’ve been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

Open Offices Reduce Cognitive Function

Think that working in a dynamic, open office environment boosts brain power? Think again. Research suggests that knowledge workers struggled more to complete demanding tasks in open offices compared to regular settings.

Open Offices Worsen Office Politics

Open offices were supposed to be a great leveler, with employees and management sharing the same space. But that’s not how it turned out. Regular workers got crammed into open areas while office managers sit in their private offices having secret meetings. It’s not good for office politics or harmony that some people get special treatment while others don’t.

Open Offices Hurt Employee Wellbeing

Open offices foster worse worker health. Evidence from the Queensland University of Technology found that those who worked in open offices had higher blood pressure and more stress.

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Poppy loves personal finance almost as much as she loves her two cats, Tif and Taz.
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