Head of WorkSpace IQ
Do you work in an open-plan office? Are you planning to? If so, you need to think carefully about how you design and use your space.
A recent report written by Professor Ann Richardson from the University of Canterbury and published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, shows that open-plan offices are not working as well as they should.
While they’re sold to us as a way to increase teamwork and communication, the research shows that actually, open-plan offices cause both physical and mental health issues. One of the reasons that open-plan offices have become popular is that they are seen to be more economical in terms of space use. And even more so if hot desks are to be used, as less furniture is required, with transient staff members (for example sales reps) simply sharing these desks as they come and go.
In any major city centre office space costs are at a premium, so using less space would appear to make good economic sense. In reality however, doing so may actually be more damaging and more costly to your business than you realise.
Professor Richardson’s review also revealed that open-plan offices can increase emotional cognitive irritation. In other words, they stress people more, decrease mental work ability and productivity, and overall job satisfaction.
We’ve all heard the mumbling that goes on when a bad cold travels through a workplace like wildfire, and sickness also featured in the findings, showing that as well as being less efficient than people with individual offices, people in open-plan offices got sick more often.
Disruption is another problem. It is well-researched that in an open-plan office, you may be interrupted on average every three minutes, with it taking between eight and 20 minutes to get back to what you were doing before you were interrupted.
The cost of all these inefficiencies soon adds up.
The thought from Professor Richardson is that once we come to realise that they are not working as intended, open-plan offices will be eventually phased out.
And the replacement? Possibly the local coffee shop, where the interruptions will be even more frequent? Who knows? We’ll just literally have to watch that space.
Until then, take whatever steps you can to make your open-plan office work better for your business.