Open Office Environments Suck and HR Knows This

Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office environment can tell you.  They’re not the engines of robust collaboration and creativity they were touted to be when they first came on the scene.

Rather, they’re productivity-sucking random annoyance generators which cause those who are compelled to endure them to run screaming for the hills.

Either these malcontents of the open office run home to actually get something done, or they run as far as they can, looking for a job offering an office with a door (and perhaps a window).

They can run, but they can’t hide from the fact that fully 70% of modern offices have fallen prey to the siren song of the open office, according to the New Yorker.

Save money!  Build better teams!  Foster collaborative creativity!  It was all so exciting until it wasn’t.

Open office environments suck and HR knows this.  Read on to find out why that is.

The promise

There’s a good reason for so many employers being sucked into the open office vortex.  They promised to save employers money on commercial real estate.  Private offices take up more space, as they’re dedicated to single employees.

I mean, why give people their own offices when you can just slap a bunch of people into a giant box with no privacy and no means of getting the kind of quiet they need to focus?

It’s true that it’s more cost-effective, because open office environments reduce the square footage required per person.  Estimates vary from 3-1 to 5-1.  That’s a nice ratio, right?

They also symbolize a horizontal hierarchical schema that’s attractive to many.  But what are the hidden costs of open office environments?

The reality

A recent survey from Ipsos and Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase related that 85% of employees are dissatisfied with the open concept workplace.  Further, 95% of employees desired a private workspace.

The study also revealed that almost an hour and a half was lost each working day to distractions.  The stress of working in what amounts to a boiler room selling toner for photocopiers was stressful and stress is a leading cause of absenteeism and illness.

Employees in open plan work environment took 70% more sick days than those in more traditional settings.

And that costs money and yes – HR knows this.

Here to stay

While it appears that open office environments are here to stay, it’s clear that they suck for multiple reasons.  So, what do employers do about it?

Private space can be carved out for quiet conversations, reviews and other activities that are best pursued without distractions.  Employers should also consider offering employees flexibility with respect to remote work when they need it.  If you need the work to be done, then you must create the conditions to make that possible.

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