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Studies Show Open Offices Bad for Collaboration


By Greg Zimmerman Facilities Management
open office

Open office plans are actually detrimental to the very collaboration they’re intended to promote, according to two new studies. A Harvard Business School study shows that occupants of open offices are more likely to cover background noise with earbuds, telecommute more frequently to avoid distraction, and use e-mail more often instead of stopping by a colleague’s desk for a quick chat, according to The Washington Post.

At one Fortune 500 company, the researchers found that after moving to an open office plan, occupants spent 73 percent less time in face-to-face interaction, email use rose 67 percent and instant messaging use rose 75 percent.

The second study showed a similar increase in electronic communication and, notably, a different pattern of interaction between colleagues. The study’s co-author, Ethan Berstein, says people connected with different groups of people via electronic communication than they do face-to-face. But this might not be great if facility managers have arranged the open office to foster communication between particular teams or groups.

The lack of privacy and the presence of background noise seem to be the two biggest issues. Regarding the latter, facility managers have several options for mitigating noise concerns. This article from the May issue of Building Operating Management offers three best practices for successful open office acoustics. Acoustics are tricky, especially in open office environments, but with thoughtful design strategies, office spaces can lead to happier and more productive occupants.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his recent story about the new LEED v4.1 rating system.

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